What Amazon’s success costs its workers

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Sabrina Almeida

Love shopping on Amazon? So do hundreds of other Canadians, three of whom live in my home.

According to Retail Insider, a study conducted last year showed that 63 per cent of those surveyed used Amazon to discover a new product and 42 per cent of Canadian households hold a Prime membership. And although I’m a traditional shopper, I must confess that I regularly browse the popular ecommerce website to explore my options.

But the Amazon success story has a dark side to it. I’m not referring to its impact on brick and mortar stores here but its labour force!!!

Earlier this month, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and 13 other Democratic US senators wrote a public letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos urging him to “overhaul [the] profit-at-all-costs culture” at his company. The letter referenced safety records from Amazon’s warehouse network which appeared to show higher-than-average injury rates in the warehousing industry. Meanwhile activists and some of its workers had already called out the ecommerce giant on the pace of work and labour conditions in its operations.

My younger son worked at the Amazon warehouse at Heritage Road in Brampton for about three weeks two years ago. He was at a loose end at the time and the Amazon job was the easiest to come by. He was skeptical about joining having read that it was one of the “worst places” to work. A close friend of his had also just quit because he didn’t want to do the overtime they were insisting on.

Ignoring these warning signs, I nudged him to take up the daytime position. He worked 10-hr shifts, four days a week alone in a cube, scanning products all day. He quit because he hated the work environment. His hands and feet were also beginning to feel the effects of the job. Scanning and stacking products all day were taking a toll on his fingers and wrists. He didn’t offer details about his experience and so we were mostly unaware of what he went through. Two other friends of his who joined months later, quit after a day’s work.

It was only when a colleague shared his experience working there, more than a year later, that I learned about Amazon’s gruelling and not-so-safe work environment.

It was no longer easy to find employment here thanks to the scores of foreign (Indian) students working there. Keeping your job also depended on your output. (It was not as competitive when my son worked there.) The gentleman was nudged out after about two weeks and happy to leave the place. In his short span as a fork-lift operator (with no prior experience and just one day’s training), he had witnessed a series of work-related injuries and didn’t think it was worth risking his health and life.

Another ex-employee also shared how he never got the full-time position he had applied for because his output didn’t match the top performers. Most of those who stuck on simply kept their sights trained on getting to the next level.

With hundreds of students and new immigrants looking for employment, Amazon has a never-ending supply of workers despite its working conditions and high-turnover rate. Most of its cash-strapped workforce is not in a position to complain and either suffers quietly or quits. And so, it continues to flourish at the expense of its employees.

The ecommerce platform’s part-time work positions which support a gig economy have also come under scrutiny. The contract workers are usually without benefits. While the part-time work may be a boon for those looking for extra money on the side, like my colleague, those relying on it are not getting fairly paid for the amount of work they are doing. They also have no security, stability or safety net.

Long hours, being on one’s feet for extended periods of time, having hardly any human interaction during your shift or opportunities to interact with coworkers, repetitive work day in and day out, having to meet certain rates per hour also takes a heavy toll on employees’ mental health.

Perhaps Jeff Bezos’ giving-back plan should start with his warehouse employees!!!

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