Amazon begins hiring at Otay Mesa facility. Is $15 an hour enough?
Amazon announced this week it has begun hiring roughly 1,500 workers for its massive fulfillment center in Otay Mesa.
The news release announcing the job search was the first time the online retailer publicly admitted it was behind the 3.4 million-square-foot facility, which has been under construction for more than a year.
The Amazon jobs will start at a minimum of $15 an hour, said the Seattle company’s press release. Employers across San Diego County have reported difficulty finding workers, resulting in bidding wars for employees. Some businesses, for example, are paying up to $20 an hour for dishwashers. (The minimum wage in San Diego County, for companies with 26 or more employees, is $14 an hour.)
Other companies have offered signing bonuses to entice workers. The Lot, a luxury cinema company with two locations in San Diego, gave signing bonuses as high as $1,000 as long as an employee committed to at least 90 days of work.
While its hourly wage might not be attractive or competitive,Amazon’s benefits package might be appealing to a worker. Full-time workers get full medical, vision and dental insurance on the first day. They also get a 401(k) with a 50 percent match.
Phil Blair, executive officer of San Diego staffing agency Manpower, said the starting pay may be an issue for Amazon. He said businesses across San Diego County are struggling to find new employees despite higher pay and benefits.
“If they are paying $15 an hour, that is not enough in this job market,” he said. “The going rate is more like $17, $18, $20 an hour.”
Efforts to get more information from Amazon about how many of the jobs start at $15 an hour were unsuccessful. But, its job posting said there are additional benefits: New hires get a $100 bonus if they show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, and it provides programs for workers to learn new skills.
Even with the benefits, Blair noted Amazon warehouse workers are not known for sticking around a long time. A recent New York Times investigation found the retailer has a 150 percent turnover rate each year at its warehouses. It said it loses nearly 3 percent of its warehouse workers each week.
Conditions at the facilities, which have been criticized for being difficult, were thrown into the spotlight last week after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos completed a journey to space with his other company, Blue Origin. In an interview with ABC News after the flight, Bezos thanked Amazon workers and customers for paying for the trip.
“Yes, Amazon workers did pay for this — with lower wages, union busting, a frenzied and inhumane workplace,” wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) on Twitter, “and delivery drivers not having health insurance during a pandemic.”
Amazon said job candidates must be 18 years or older and have a high school diploma, or equivalent. The job listing says shifts are overnight, early morning, day, evening and weekends.
Amazon said in its news release that it would begin hiring for Spanish-speaking workers in the coming weeks. It was unclear if that means Spanish speaking only. The facility’s location near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, where thousands of Mexican workers cross into the United States each day, could benefit from its proximity to Tijuana.
The previously vacant 65-acre site was purchased for $29.7 million earlier this year. Its location is just outside the rapidly industrializing center of Otay Mesa, part of the city of San Diego, in unincorporated San Diego County land.
County records say 43,371 square feet of the site will be for office space, with the remaining 3,387,858 square feet for the warehouse. While its location is outside the main industrial hub, improvements in the area are likely to benefit the project going forward.
The city was awarded a $22.7 million state grant in December to widen and improve La Media Road — aimed at reducing truck congestion on the busy road by the border. There is also a large remodel of the port of entry underway and several other businesses setting up shop in Otay Mesa.
A large reason for the build-up, aside from cheaper land in this part of the county, is the change to trade deals in North America under the Trump administration. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, nicknamed “NAFTA 2.0,” gives American and Canadian businesses tax benefits for outsourcing to Mexico instead of Asia. The change means companies need storage facilities for goods built in Mexico to be shipped all over North America.
* * *
Link to Amazon’s job website: https://www.amazon.jobs/en/
Amazon Work-From-Home Jobs: What You Need to Know to Get Hired
Amazon is likely the most widely recognized and trusted online merchants worldwide. But did you know Amazon offers work-from-home jobs in many states across the U.S.?
It’s true! Amazon hires thousands of virtual workers, primarily (but not exclusively) for various phone- and email-based customer service positions. Let’s dive into getting an at-home job with Amazon and see what you can expect from working there.
What Kind of Amazon Work-from-Home Jobs Are Available?
Please be aware there will not always be openings in every category. Please refer to the company’s job board for current openings, requirements and job descriptions.
Amazon Customer Service
Average Salary: $16/hour
Most of Amazon’s virtual call centers offer home-based jobs, so there are many excellent opportunities. While you aren’t usually able to schedule your hours quite as freely, and there are requirements for getting the job. For starters, you will need a dedicated phone line and access to high-speed internet.
Amazon only hires remote agents in certain states. You will need to check their jobs site for the most up-to-date state restrictions.
Amazon customer service positions are highly coveted. They are employee positions and do offer a guaranteed hourly wage. Openings are typically seasonal and fill quickly. You will want to keep an eye open, or set up job alerts to stay on top of finding out when your favorite companies are hiring.
These positions also tend to be temporary positions with the possibility of becoming permanent if you meet your metrics and attendance requirements. These jobs can be part-time or full-time.
There is frequently a demand for bilingual reps and military veterans and spouses.
Amazon Human Resources and Recruiting
Average Salary: $53,006/year
One of the interesting things about human resources is that you get to work with humans, right? Amazon has found a way for you to be a human resources manager, contractor, investigator, etc., and still work from home. The positions for HR are not easy-breezy with their details. These positions seem to challenge individuals, offer travel opportunities, and get you a nice set of experience working with a qualified team of like-minded people.
Some of the basic qualifications for the manager position are a bachelor’s degree, six-years’ experience, and (at least) one year of experience in a supervisory role. Amazon is serious about its HR solutions.
Amazon Online Healthcare Jobs
Average Salary: $105,628
Amazon has quite a few virtual location healthcare jobs listed that can provide you a healthcare challenge as well. Some of the jobs listed are Bio-Pharma Consultant and Senior Solutions Healthcare Architect.
The bio-pharma position does require IT knowledge, travel, and consulting experience. The healthcare architect will be working with a team to develop and innovate new solutions for healthcare partners.
Amazon Virtual Locations Lets You Build a Career from Home
The above positions are not all Amazon has to offer. If you visit their Virtual Locations Job Page, you will see a plethora of positions available around the globe and in a wide variety of capacities.
When you head over to the Amazon virtual locations page, you’ll likely find something right up your alley if you’re looking for tech support, management in operations, deliveries, areas, logistics, and more. Other items you may want to look into are IT services such as cloud support, or a solutions architect; Amazon has security jobs too. All the positions named above are just a peppering of jobs offered from Amazon.
Some of these positions require degrees, experience, travel, and more. Each of the jobs listed has specific requirements; if you are looking to work with Amazon for technical support, one current job opening requires a bilingual person (who speaks fluent Japanese and English), lives in the United States, and a High-School Degree (or equivalent). This position requires that you do not live 50 miles or less away from the physical customer service site. There are a handful of states that you must live in to be eligible for these positions. (Usually, if you live within a commutable distance – 50 miles or less – from a physical location, they require you to work onsite instead of remotely.)
Location Requirements to Work for Amazon
Amazon delivers just about everywhere, but the list of states where you can work is shorter. Basically, you’ll need to reside in a state where Amazon has one of its offices. Below is a list from one of the most recent openings. This can change at any time.
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
When you visit Amazon’s remote job listings, you can filter them by the state (or states, if you’re relocating) where you want to search. This will help you narrow your search and focus on the opportunities where you qualify instead of wasting time clicking through dozens of jobs that you couldn’t apply for.
Qualifications to Do Amazon Customer Service at Home
Amazon prefers the same set of qualifications for its at-home customer service representatives as many other companies do. They’ll ask for at least a year of customer service experience, at least a high school diploma, and some experience working from home. You’ll also need access to a quiet working environment if you’re applying for a job with the call center.
Technical skills include familiarity with chat services, email programs, Microsoft Office, and the general online shopping experience. General computer experience is always important when you’re working remotely. You’ll also need basic customer service skills, including the ability (and desire!) to do some problem-solving.
I also want to add that it will also go a long way if you can share your enthusiasm for online shopping in general, and for Amazon’s business in particular. If you’ve been shopping enthusiastically with Amazon for years, bring it up! Likewise, if you’ve had great experiences as a customer of Amazon, it wouldn’t hurt to share how eager you are to provide that same level of satisfaction to other customers.
Listen to the language Amazon uses to describe itself, and find ways that you can fit into that type of company culture. For example, their customer service jobs reference being a company that’s “customer-obsessed” — so bring that level of enthusiasm to your application.
Get In the Door With Seasonal Work
While a lot of the jobs on Amazon’s remote jobs page are actually not for customer service, thousands of at-home customer service agents are hired each year. Positions pop up occasionally throughout the year with big hiring recruitment leading up to the peak shopping season (November through January). This means we usually start seeing an abundance of these temporary customer service positions posting around August. These are generally listed as seasonal work.
That said, if you really want to work from home for Amazon, it’s a good idea to go ahead and go for one of these seasonal jobs. It’s always possible that if you do well in the temporary role, you’ll be offered a permanent spot when one comes open.
Seasonal work might be what gets you in the door, but be aware that seasonal workers may not qualify for the full-time employee benefits package.
What to Expect for Pay, Schedules, and More
Interviews for at-home customer service agents are conducted over the phone or via video chat, which means you can interview at home. Training is paid and done mostly at home, though you may be required to go onsite for some training depending on the position.
Pay is determined by the position.
Many of the customer service jobs are full time, but sometimes part-time work comes available. As a customer service representative, you’ll be expected to be available to work during Amazon’s customer service hours (which include nights and weekends, not to mention holidays).
How to Apply to Work from Home with Amazon
Amazon’s job site has two main sections — one section is for fulfillment (which is things like working in the warehouse) and the other is for remote jobs. If you want to work from home, you’ll want to stick with the remote jobs.
You can access the job site by going to www.amazon.jobs and clicking on “Remote Career Opportunities” — or just go straight here. From there, you can search for the role you want (like “customer service”) or you can apply some filters using the checkboxes on the left, and take a look at what’s available.
You’ll need to prepare a cover letter and resume for your application. Your cover letter is your chance to explain why you think you’d be a great fit for the job, even if (or especially if) you don’t have the stated requirements. For example, if you’ve got a history working with sales, a lot of the skills you used can be “translated” to customer service even if you aren’t specifically doing customer service in your sales job.
Other Types of Jobs Available at Amazon
When you check out the Amazon job board that’s specifically for remote work, you’ll find a huge variety of jobs. These are a few of what I saw when I looked it up for this post:
- Sales, including technology sales and account management
- Data analysis
- Software development
- Customer service/satisfaction including fluency
They were also recently hiring transcriptionists. You just never know what will pop up!
Final Thoughts on Working from Home With Amazon
Most people who are looking for at-home work with Amazon will end up in a customer service role. I know lots of people who have been very happy with their at-home Amazon jobs. The pay is decent and the benefits are great, so if you’re able to maintain the work schedule they require of you, it could be a perfect fit!
Amazon Flex Wants You to be Your Own Boss
In the era of Lyft and Uber, of course, our boxes need a personal driver. Becoming an Amazon Flex driver is easy, and you get to schedule your time. Drivers make an hourly rate that slides. It depends on your location, how many hours your work, and if you get tips.
Amazon created the Flex App, where you schedule your time accordingly. The app helps keep track of the packages you’ve picked up, gives you directions, and grants you the ability to see how much money you’ve earned.
What states does Amazon offer Amazon Flex delivery jobs?
The one downside is that not all areas offer Amazon Flex at all times. While you can send in a query, and Amazon’s needs change frequently (the Get Started page suggests to check back often), you’ll need to make sure that you’re on top of when you check it.
List of Amazon Flex states
Other Work From Home Jobs
Although Amazon is a big player in remote work, it’s far from the only game in town. The universe of work from home job opportunities is vast. Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking — and for even more suggestions, check out my big list of 150 Work From Home Jobs You Won’t Want to Miss!
Amazon Mechanical Turk
Amazon Mechanical Turk, or mTurk, isn’t a “job,” but it is a lot of people’s – myself included – first exposure to remote work.
mTurk is what consider a small task site. As a Worker, you will be able to visit the site and pick up little tasks to complete in exchange for payment. You won’t get paid a lot on this site. And you aren’t guaranteed work. But, in exchange, it isn’t something that requires a lot of time or commitment either.
I call these types of gigs “commercial break money.” It isn’t something you should count on to pay the bills – it won’t – but it is something you can do to pass the time during commercial breaks while watching television. A lot of tasks only take a few minutes to complete.
Amazon mTurk pays by Amazon Payments which can be transferred to your bank account, or you can redeem your earnings for an Amazon Gift Card.
Learn more about Amazon Mechanical Turk here.
This is a popular job for people just beginning online work because it’s so easy to get started. No special skills are necessary, and the work is simple enough. However, there are some trade-offs: It’s tough to earn much money in this field, so data entry is best suited for workers who are looking to pick up a little extra cash and not replace a full-time income. There are also some scams in the industry, so you’ll want to be sure you’re working with a real company that will pay you for your hard work.
I had some transcription jobs when I first started working from home. They’re great for breaking into at-home work, and you can snag a transcriptionist role even if you don’t have any past experience in the field. That does mean that pay starts out fairly low, but after you have some experience, it’s possible to make a full-time living from your own home. If you have knowledge about specialized subjects such as the law or health care, consider niche work like becoming a legal or medical transcriptionist.
If your idea of fun is correcting mistakes in restaurant menus, then online proofreading could be a perfect work at home job for you. As a freelance proofreader, your job will be to spot errors in anything from Facebook ads to student essays. Many proofreaders prefer to focus on one type of content.
Work From Home Jobs Summary
Whether you choose to become a full-time independent contractor with a company like Amazon or blaze your own path as freelance writer or social media manager, taking an online job gives you flexibility and opportunity like never before. Go see what’s out there and get started!
First published January 2018. Updated September 2020.
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Tagged With: AmazonFiled Under: Work at Home JobsSours: https://theworkathomewife.com/amazon-work-from-home-jobs/
Overnight Amazon Fresh Store Associate - Whittier, CA
Pay starts at $15.35 per hour with benefits available.
Join the Amazon Fresh team in Whittier. Amazon Fresh is a new grocery store designed from the ground up to offer a
seamless grocery shopping experience, whether customers are shopping in store or online.
Learn more about Amazon Fresh: amazon.com/freshstores
As an Associate, will contribute to a team culture based on customer obsession, trust, respect, integrity, continuous learning, and fun. You enjoy learning new things and are committed to delighting our customers. You have a strong attention to detail and follow standard processes while identifying opportunities for improvement. You are flexible while working in a dynamic environment, prioritizing tasks as needed. You adhere to and maintain regular and punctual attendance, safety, and quality standards.
We offer Associate opportunities in two main areas of our grocery store, Grocery and Food Services. As a Grocery Associate, you will be the face of Amazon and will contribute to a vibrant store team. As a Food Service Associate, you will contribute to a vibrant kitchen team.
As you complete your application for this job, you will be able to select your preferences for the area(s) of our grocery store you are interested in for employment.
What You Do:
For any of our Associate positions:
- Must be able to work flexible hours including nights, weekends and holidays
- You are comfortable working in a physical environment. You have the ability to lift up to 49 pounds and be on your feet for a shift, up to 10 hours at a time with or without reasonable accommodation
- Candidates must be at least 18 years of age. Amazon does not sponsor for immigration, including for H-1B, TN, and other non-immigrant visas, for this role.
As a Grocery Associate:
- During store operating hours, you operate point-of-sale (POS) systems and handle cash
- During store operating hours, you deliver excellent customer service when answering customer questions
- Receive, stock, and replenish product
- Use systems to scan, process, and count inventory
- Identify and communicate barriers to completing assigned tasks
- Keep the store as clean and beautiful as on Day 1
- Rotate between additional duties as assigned
As a Food Service Associate:
- Work with food products, which may include handling produce, meat, seafood etc.
- Deliver excellent customer service when answering questions and interacting with customers
- Identify and communicate barriers to completing assigned tasks
- Keep the storage locations, and service counters as clean and beautiful as on Day 1
- Perform additional duties as assigned
- Obtain local food handling certification, if required
As a Kitchen Associate:
- Work in the Prepared Foods Kitchen, which may include making pizza, rotisserie chicken, sandwiches, cold salads, and/or converting ingredients into delicious food for our customers
- Prepare, package, and label food products of varying temperatures
- Keep the kitchen, cooking equipment, and storage locations as clean and beautiful as on Day 1
- Deliver excellent customer service when answering questions and interacting with customers
- Identify and communicate barriers to completing assigned tasks
- Perform additional duties as assigned
- Obtain local food handling certification, if required
Warehouse Team Member - Overnight Shifts Available job
Amazon, the Seattle-based online retailer, provides personalized shopping services and direct shipping to customers. The company’s platform, amazon.com, offers a wide range of products including books, music, videotapes, computers, electronics, home and garden, and several other products. Amazon’s corporate culture embraces diversity and inclusion. The firm endeavors to find opportunities to train veterans and their spouses and currently counts 21,000 former members of the military on board. Maintaining a pet-friendly working environment, the retailer welcomes Amazonians’ four-legged friends on bring-your-dog-to-work days. You can apply for student programs, fulfillment center career opportunities, as well as remote jobs at Amazon. Job categories include administrative support, business intelligence, data science, legal, human resources, marketing & PR, and several other.
Business Services (Unclassified)
Total job postings in the pastBased on 130 job boards, duplications excluded
Average posting lifetime
Total job posting distribution in the pastBased on 130 job boards, duplications excluded
|Job category||Distribution||6 months||1 year|
Jobs amazon overnight
Earn up to $726/week!
Limited-time opportunities in select locations.
See what it's like to work here
Come help us bring orders to life! You’ll be working in an Amazon warehouse, picking, packing and sorting customer orders for shipment. In this position, you can expect:
- Fast-paced, physical role
- A set full-time schedule
- Shift selection of days or nights
- On-the-job learning and growth
- A safe working environment. Learn more.
Seasonal Full-Time Warehouse Team Member - Earn up to $726 per week
Seasonal Full-Time Warehouse Team Member - Earn up to $726 per week
Looking for more hourly opportunities?
Immediate hourly positions available.
Start earning industry leading wages and choose from a variety of shifts to suit your life. Part-time and full-time jobs available.
Find warehouse jobs
Shoppers choose flexible part-time schedules working in Whole Foods or a Prime Now warehouse. Part-time jobs available.
Find shopper jobs
Amazon recently told workers at its in DCH1 warehouse in Chicago they had to take 10-hour overnight shifts at a new warehouse or risk losing their jobs, according to a new report from Motherboard.
The shifts, known as “megacycle” shifts, typically begin around 1AM and end around lunchtime. The DCH1 warehouse used to have a variety of shifts including an eight-hour overnight shift, a five-hour morning shift, or a four-hour morning shift. But DCH1 is shutting down, the company told workers. Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft said the company was not only asking associates at DCH1 to change to a single shift type, however. “We offer a wide range of job opportunities at Amazon sites and we are working with each associate directly on the option that best supports them,” she said in a statement emailed to The Verge.
The shifts are meant to improve efficiency, according to Motherboard, and workers at delivery stations in other cities have already transitioned to the new megacycle shifts, along with half of Amazon’s last-mile delivery network.
“We are excited to have recently launched three new, next generation delivery stations for DCH1 employees where they can continue to work and grow as an integral part of the Amazon team in state-of-art facilities,” Crowcroft said. “Our associates are the heart and soul of our operations, and we are happy to continue to offer great, flexible career opportunities in world class facilities.”
DCH1 Amazonians United, a group representing Amazon workers at DCH1, said the new schedule was “unworkable” for many of the warehouse employees. Ten-hour shifts are not uncommon at Amazon warehouses, and many warehouse employees are part-time workers not eligible for benefits.
Warehouse workers have criticized Amazon for how the company has treated them during the coronavirus pandemic. Workers in New York, Chicago, and Detroit staged walk-offs last spring, which pushed the company to do temperature checks and provide masks, offer partial pay in some instances when it sends sick employees home, and implement cleaning protocols to protect its workers from becoming infected. The company has largely dismissed most of the workers’ complaints as “unfounded,” with executives insulting one fired worker who helped organize a strike at its Staten Island facility last year.
Update February 4th, 1:21PM ET: Added comment from Amazon spokesperson
Update February 4th, 3:52PM ET: Added further comment from Amazon
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I Spent A Week Working At An Amazon Warehouse And It Is Hard, Physical Work
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But then there are more than 100m items on its UK website: if you can possibly imagine it, Amazon sells it. And if you can't possibly imagine it, well, Amazon sells it too. To spend 10½ hours a day picking items off the shelves is to contemplate the darkest recesses of our consumerist desires, the wilder reaches of stuff, the things that money can buy: a One Direction charm bracelet, a dog onesie, a cat scratching post designed to look like a DJ's record deck, a banana slicer, a fake twig. I work mostly in the outsize "non-conveyable" section, the home of diabetic dog food, and bio-organic vegetarian dog food, and obese dog food; of 52in TVs, and six-packs of water shipped in from Fiji, and oversized sex toys – the 18in double dong (regular-sized sex toys are shelved in the sortables section).
On my second day, the manager tells us that we alone have picked and packed 155,000 items in the past 24 hours. Tomorrow, 2 December – the busiest online shopping day of the year – that figure will be closer to 450,000. And this is just one of eight warehouses across the country. Amazon took 3.5m orders on a single day last year. Christmas is its Vietnam – a test of its corporate mettle and the kind of challenge that would make even the most experienced distribution supply manager break down and weep. In the past two weeks, it has taken on an extra 15,000 agency staff in Britain. And it expects to double the number of warehouses in Britain in the next three years. It expects to continue the growth that has made it one of the most powerful multinationals on the planet.
Right now, in Swansea, four shifts will be working at least a 50-hour week, hand-picking and packing each item, or, as the Daily Mail put it in an article a few weeks ago, being "Amazon's elves" in the "21st-century Santa's grotto".
If Santa had a track record in paying his temporary elves the minimum wage while pushing them to the limits of the EU working time directive, and sacking them if they take three sick breaks in any three-month period, this would be an apt comparison. It is probably reasonable to assume that tax avoidance is not "constitutionally" a part of the Santa business model as Brad Stone, the author of a new book on Amazon, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, tells me it is in Amazon's case. Neither does Santa attempt to bully his competitors, as Mark Constantine, the founder of Lush cosmetics, who last week took Amazon to the high court, accuses it of doing. Santa was not called before the Commons public accounts committee and called "immoral" by MPs.
For a week, I was an Amazon elf: a temporary worker who got a job through a Swansea employment agency – though it turned out I wasn't the only journalist who happened upon this idea. Last Monday, BBC's Panorama aired a programme that featured secret filming from inside the same warehouse. I wonder for a moment if we have committed the ultimate media absurdity and the show's undercover reporter, Adam Littler, has secretly filmed me while I was secretly interviewing him. He didn't, but it's not a coincidence that the heat is on the world's most successful online business. Because Amazon is the future of shopping; being an Amazon "associate" in an Amazon "fulfilment centre" – take that for doublespeak, Mr Orwell – is the future of work; and Amazon's payment of minimal tax in any jurisdiction is the future of global business. A future in which multinational corporations wield more power than governments.
But then who hasn't absent-mindedly clicked at something in an idle moment at work, or while watching telly in your pyjamas, and, in what's a small miracle of modern life, received a familiar brown cardboard package dropping on to your doormat a day later. Amazon is successful for a reason. It is brilliant at what it does. "It solved these huge challenges," says Brad Stone. "It mastered the chaos of storing tens of millions of products and figuring out how to get them to people, on time, without fail, and no one else has come even close." We didn't just pick and pack more than 155,000 items on my first day. We picked and packed the right items and sent them to the right customers. "We didn't miss a single order," our section manager tells us with proper pride.
At the end of my first day, I log into my Amazon account. I'd left my mum's house outside Cardiff at 6.45am and got in at 7.30pm and I want some Compeed blister plasters for my toes and I can't do it before work and I can't do it after work. My finger hovers over the "add to basket" option but, instead, I look at my Amazon history. I made my first purchase, TheRough Guide to Italy, in February 2000 and remember that I'd bought it for an article I wrote on booking a holiday on the internet. It's so quaint reading it now. It's from the age before broadband (I itemise my phone bill for the day and it cost me £25.10), when Google was in its infancy. It's littered with the names of defunct websites (remember Sir Bob Geldof's deckchair.com, anyone?). It was a frustrating task and of pretty much everything I ordered, only the book turned up on time, as requested.
But then it's a phenomenal operation. And to work in – and I find it hard to type these words without suffering irony seizure – a "fulfilment centre" is to be a tiny cog in a massive global distribution machine. It's an industrialised process, on a truly massive scale, made possible by new technology. The place might look like it's been stocked at 2am by a drunk shelf-filler: a typical shelf might have a set of razor blades, a packet of condoms and a My Little Pony DVD. And yet everything is systemised, because it has to be. It's what makes it all the more unlikely that at the heart of the operation, shuffling items from stowing to picking to packing to shipping, are those flesh-shaped, not-always-reliable, prone-to-malfunctioning things we know as people.
It's here, where actual people rub up against the business demands of one of the most sophisticated technology companies on the planet, that things get messy. It's a system that includes unsystemisable things like hopes and fears and plans for the future and children and lives. And in places of high unemployment and low economic opportunities, places where Amazon deliberately sites its distribution centres – it received £8.8m in grants from the Welsh government for bringing the warehouse here – despair leaks around the edges. At the interview – a form-filling, drug- and alcohol-testing, general-checking-you-can-read session at a local employment agency – we're shown a video. The process is explained and a selection of people are interviewed. "Like you, I started as an agency worker over Christmas," says one man in it. "But I quickly got a permanent job and then promoted and now, two years later, I'm an area manager."
Amazon will be taking people on permanently after Christmas, we're told, and if you work hard, you can be one of them. In the Swansea/Neath/Port Talbot area, an area still suffering the body blows of Britain's post-industrial decline, these are powerful words, though it all starts to unravel pretty quickly. There are four agencies who have supplied staff to the warehouse, and their reps work from desks on the warehouse floor. Walking from one training session to another, I ask one of them how many permanent employees work in the warehouse but he mishears me and answers another question entirely: "Well, obviously not everyone will be taken on. Just look at the numbers. To be honest, the agencies have to say that just to get people through the door."
It does that. It's what the majority of people in my induction group are after. I train with Pete – not his real name – who has been unemployed for the past three years. Before that, he was a care worker. He lives at the top of the Rhondda Valley, and his partner, Susan (not her real name either), an unemployed IT repair technician, has also just started. It took them more than an hour to get to work. "We had to get the kids up at five," he says. After a 10½-hour shift, and about another hour's drive back, before picking up the children from his parents, they got home at 9pm. The next day, they did the same, except Susan twisted her ankle on the first shift. She phones in but she will receive a "point". If she receives three points, she will be "released", which is how you get sacked in modern corporatese.
And then there's "Les", who is one of our trainers. He has a special, coloured lanyard that shows he's an Amazon "ambassador", and another that says he's a first aider. He's worked at the warehouse for more than a year and over the course of the week I see him, speeding across the floor, going at least twice the rate I'm managing. He's in his 60s and tells me how he lost two stone in the first two months he worked there from all the walking. We were told when we applied for the jobs that we may walk up to 15 miles a shift. He'd been a senior manager in the same firm for 32 years before he was made redundant and landed up here. How long was it before you got a permanent job, I ask him. "I haven't," he says, and he holds up his green ID badge. Permanent employees have blue ones, a better hourly rate, and after two years share options, and there is a subtle apartheid at work.
"They dangle those blue badges in front of you," says Bill Woolcock, an ex-employee at Amazon's fulfilment centre in Rugeley, Staffordshire. "If you have a blue badge you have better wages, proper rights. You can be working alongside someone in the same job, but they're stable and you're just cannon fodder. I worked there from September 2011 to February 2012 and on Christmas Eve an agency rep with a clipboard stood by the exit and said: 'You're back after Christmas. And you're back. And you're not. You're not.' It was just brutal. It reminded me of stories about the great depression, where men would stand at the factory gate in the hope of being selected for a few days' labour. You just feel you have no personal value at all."
Why haven't they given you a proper job, I ask Les, and he shrugs his head but elsewhere people mutter: it's friends of the managers who get the jobs. It's HR picking names at random. It's some sort of black magic nobody understands. Walking off shift in a great wave of orange high-vis vests, I chat to another man in his 60s. He'd been working in the Unity mine, near Neath, he told me, until a month ago, the second time he'd been laid off in two years. He'd worked at Amazon last Christmas too. "And they just let me go straight after, no warning or anything. And I couldn't have worked any harder! I worked my socks off!"
When I put the question to Amazon, it responded: "A small number of seasonal associates have been with us for an extended period of time and we are keen to retain those individuals in order that we can provide them with a permanent role when one becomes available. We were able to create 2,300 full-time permanent positions for seasonal associates in 2013 by taking advantage of Christmas seasonality to find great permanent employees but, unfortunately, we simply cannot retain 15,000 seasonal employees."
And this is what Amazon says about its policy relating to sickness: "Amazon is a company in growth and we offer a high level of security for all our associates. Like many companies, we employ a system to record employee attendance. We consider and review all personal circumstances in relation to any attendance issues and we would not dismiss anyone for being ill. The current systems used to record employee attendance is fair and predictable and has resulted in dismissals of 11 permanent employees out of a workforce of over 5,000 permanent employees in 2013."
It's worth noting that agency workers are not Amazon employees.
There's no doubt that it is hard, physical work. The Panorama documentary majored on the miles that Adam walked, the blisters he suffered, the ridiculous targets, and the fact that you're monitored by an Orwellian handset every second of every shift. As an agency worker, you're paid 19p an hour over the minimum wage – £6.50 – and the shifts are 10½ hours long. But lots of jobs involve hard, physical work. That's not the thing that bothers people. Almost everybody remains stoical in the face of physical discomfort and exhaustion. And they're Welsh: there's a warmth and friendliness from almost everyone who works there. My team leader is no corporate droid. He started on the shop floor, sounds like Richard Burton, and is gently encouraging. And yet.
"I've worked everywhere," a forklift truck driver tells me. "And this is the worst. They pay shit because they can. Because there's no other jobs out there. Trust me, I know, I tried. I was working for £12 an hour in my last job. I'm getting £8 an hour here. I worked for Sony before and they were strict but fair. It's the unfairness that gets you here."
An unfairness that has no outlet. In the wake of the BBC documentary, Hywel Francis, the MP for Aberavon, managed to get a meeting last week with Amazon's director of public policy, a meeting he's been trying to get for years. He's reluctant to speak about the complaints he's heard from his constituents but says that "the plant is exceptional in the local area in having no union representation. It's been a long haul to even get in there and find out what is going on." It's been a black hole where the lack of any checks upon its power has left a sense that everything is pared to the absolute bone – from the cheapest of the cheap plastic safety boots, which most long-term employees seem to spend their own money replacing with something they can walk in, to the sack-you-if-you're-sick policy, to the 15-minute break that starts wherever you happen to be in the warehouse. On my third morning, at my lowest point, when my energy has run out and my spirits are low, it takes me six minutes to walk to the airport-style scanners, where I spend a minute being frisked. I queue a minute for the loos, get a banana out of my locker, sit down for 30 seconds, and then I get up and walk the six minutes back to my station.
To work at Amazon is to spend your days at the coalface of consumerism. To witness our lust for stuff. This year's stuff includes great piles of Xboxes and Kindles and this season's Jamie Oliver cookbook, Save With Jamie (you want to save with Jamie? Don't buy his sodding book), and Paul Hollywood's Pies & Puds, and Rick Stein'sIndia.
The celebrity chef cookbooks incense me. They don't even bother taking them out of the boxes. They lie in great EU butter mountain-sized piles at the ends of the aisle. Cook an egg on the telly and it's like being given a licence to print money for all eternity. The vast majority of people working in the warehouse are white, Welsh, working class, but I train with a man who's not called Sammy, and who isn't an asylum seeker from Sudan, but another country, and I spend an afternoon explaining to him what the scanner means when it tells him to look for a Good Boy Luxury Dog Stocking or a Gastric Mind Band hypnosis CD.
It's the Barbie Doll girl's Christmas advent calendar, however, that nearly breaks me. I traipse back and forth to section F, where I slice open a box, take another Barbie advent calendar, unpick the box and put it on the recycling pile, put the calendar, which has been shipped from China, passed from the container port to a third-party distributor and from there to the Amazon warehouse, on to my trolley and pass it to the packers, where it will be repackaged in a different box and finally reach its ultimate destination: the joy in a small child's heart. Because nothing captures the magic of Christmas more than a picture of a pneumatic blonde carrying multiple shopping bags. You can't put a price on that (£9.23 with free delivery).
We want cheap stuff. And we want to order it from our armchairs. And we want it to be delivered to our doors. And it's Amazon that has worked out how to do this. Over time, like a hardened drug user, my Amazon habit has increased. In 2002, I ordered my first non-book item, a This Life series 1 video; in 2005, my first non-Amazon product, a secondhand copy of a biography of Patricia Highsmith; and in 2008, I started doing the online equivalent of injecting intravenously, when I bought a TV on the site. "We are the most customer-centric company on earth," we're told in our induction briefing, shortly before it's explained that if we're late we'll get half a point, and after three of them we're out. What constitutes late, I ask. "A minute," I'm told.
I grew up in South Wales and saw first-hand how the 1980s recession slashed a brutal gash through everything, including my own extended family. I've always known that there's only a tissue-thin piece of luck between very different sorts of lives. But then my grandfather worked in a warehouse in Swansea. In my case, there really is only a tissue-thin piece of luck between me and an Amazon life. I have a lot of time to think about this during my 10½-hour day.
At the Neath working men's club down the road, one of the staff tells me that Amazon is "the employer of last resort". It's where you get a job if you can't get a job anywhere else. And it's this that's so heartbreaking. What did you do before, I ask people. And they say they're builders, hospitality managers, marketing graduates, IT technicians, carpenters, electricians. They owned their own businesses, and they were made redundant. Or the business went bust. Or they had a stroke. Or their contract ended. They are people who had skilled jobs, or professional jobs, or just better-paying jobs. And now they work for Amazon, earning the minimum wage, and most of them are grateful to have that.
Amazon isn't responsible for the wider economy, but it's the wider economy that makes the Amazon model so chilling. It's not just the nicey nice jobs that are becoming endangered, such as working in a bookshop, as Hugh Grant did in Notting Hill, or a record store, as the hero did in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, or the jobs that have gone at Borders and Woolworths and Jessops and HMV, it's pretty much everything else too. Next in line is everything: working in the shoe department at John Lewis, or behind the tills at Tesco, or doing their HR, or auditing their accounts, or building their websites, or writing their corporate magazines. Swansea's shopping centre down the road is already a planning disaster; a wasteland of charity shops and what Sarah Rees of Cover to Cover bookshop calls "a second-rate Debenhams and a third-rate Marks and Spencer".
"People know about their employment practices, and all the delivery men hate them, but do people remember that when they click? Probably not. We try and kill them with kindness," she says. "You can't put the genie back in the bottle." But then there is nothing else to try and kill them with. It's cheaper, often for her, to order books on Amazon than through her distributor. "We're upfront about it and tell people, but there is just no way to compete with them on price."
There is no end to Amazon's appetite. "It's expanding in every conceivable direction," Brad Stone tells me. "It's why I called my book The Everything Store. Their ambition is to sell everything. They already have their digital services and their enterprise services. They've just started selling art. Apparel is still very immature and is set for expansion. Groceries are the next big thing. They're going very strongly after that because it will cut down costs elsewhere. If they can start running their own trucks in major metro areas, they can cut down the costs of third-party shippers."
In the UK, I point out, everyone already delivers groceries: Tesco, Asda, Waitrose, Sainsbury's. "I suspect they'll acquire," he says. And everywhere it kills jobs. Shops employ 47 people for every $10m in sales, according to research done by a company called ILSR. Amazon employs only 14 people per $10m of revenue. In Britain, it turned over £4.2bn last year, which is a net loss of 23,000 jobs. And even the remaining jobs, the hard, badly paid jobs in Amazon's warehouses, are hardly future-proof. Amazon has just bought an automated sorting system called Kiva for $775m. How many retail jobs, of any description, will there be left in 10 years' time?
Our lust for cheap, discounted goods delivered to our doors promptly and efficiently has a price. We just haven't worked out what it is yet.
It's taxes, of course, that pay for the roads on which Amazon's delivery trucks drive, and the schools in which its employees are educated, and the hospitals in which their babies are born and their arteries are patched up, and in which, one day, they may be nursed in their dying days. Taxes that all its workers pay, and that, it emerged in 2012, it tends not to pay. On UK sales of £4.2bn in 2012, it paid £3.2m in corporation tax. In 2006, it transferred its UK business to Luxembourg and reclassified its UK operation as simply "order fulfilment" business. The Luxembourg office employs 380 people. The UK operation employs 21,000. You do the math.
Brad Stone tells me that tax avoidance is built into the company's DNA. From the very beginning it has been "constitutionally oriented to securing every possible advantage for its customers, setting the lowest possible prices, taking advantage of every known tax loophole or creating new ones". It's something that Mark Constantine, the co-founder of Lush cosmetics, has spent time thinking about. He refuses to sell through Amazon, but it didn't stop Amazon using the Lush name to direct buyers to its site, where it suggested alternative products they might like.
"It's a way of bullying businesses to use their services. And we refused. We've been in the high court this week to sue them for breach of trademark. It's cost us half a million pounds so far to defend our business. Most companies just can't afford that. But we've done it because it's a matter of principle. They keep on forcing your hand and yet they don't have a viable business model. The only way they can afford to run it is by not paying tax. If they had to behave in a more conventional way, they would struggle.
"It's a form of piracy capitalism. They rush into people's countries, they take the money out, and they dump it in some port of convenience. That's not a business in any traditional sense. It's an ugly return to a form of exploitative capitalism that we had a century ago and we decided as a society to move on from."
In Swansea I chat to someone whose name is not Martin for a while. It's Saturday, the sun is shining and the warehouse has gone quiet. We've been told to stop picking. The orders have been turned off like a tap. "It's the weather," he says. "When it rains, it can suddenly go mental." We clear away boxes and the tax issue comes up. "There was a lot of anger here," he says. "People were very bitter about it. But I'd always say to them: 'If someone told you that you could pay less tax, do you honestly think you would volunteer to pay more?'" He's right. And the people who were angry were also right. It's an unignorable fact of modern life that, as Stuart Roper of Manchester Business School tells me, "some of these big brands are more powerful than governments. They're wealthier. If they were countries, they would be pretty large economies. They're multinational and the global financial situation allows them to ship money all over the world. And the government is so desperate for jobs that it has given away large elements of control."
It's a mirror image of what is happening on the shop floor. Just as Amazon has eroded 200 years' worth of workers' rights through its use of agencies and rendered a large swath of its workers powerless, so it has pulled off the same trick with corporate responsibility. MPs like to slag off Amazon and Starbucks and Google for not paying their taxes but they've yet to actually create the legislation that would compel them to do so.
"They are taking these massive subsidies from the state and they are not paying back," says Martin Smith of the GMB union. "Their argument is that they are creating jobs but what they are doing is displacing and replacing other jobs. Better jobs. And high street shops tend to pay their taxes. There is a £120bn tax gap that is only possible because the government pay tax benefits to enable people to survive. When companies pay the minimum wage they are in effect being subsidised by the taxpayer."
Back in Swansea, on the last break of my last day, I sit and chat with Pete and Susan from the Rhondda and Sammy, the asylum seeker from Sudan. Susan still wants a permanent job but is looking more doubtful about it happening. Her ankle is still swollen. Her pick rate has been low. We've been told that next week, the hours will increase by an hour a day and there will be an extra day of compulsory overtime. It will mean getting their children up by 4.30am and Pete is worried about finding a baby-sitter at three days' notice. When I ask Sammy how the job compares with the one he had in Sudan, where he was a foreman in a factory, he thinks for a minute then shrugs: "It's the same."
There have always been rubbish jobs. Ian Brinkley, the director of the Work Foundation, calls Amazon's employment practices "old wine in new bottles". Restaurants and kebab shops have done the same sort of thing for years. But Amazon is not a kebab shop. It's the future. Which may or may not be something to think about as you click "add to basket".
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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