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Tourist Journalism Versus the Working Class

A few days before the Fourth of July, British comic John Oliver used the pulpit of his US infotainment show, Last Week Tonight, to deliver a lengthy monologue about the depredations of Amazon.com. His specific complaint was that Amazon doesn’t treat its employees very well. According to Oliver, among the indignities that the company has heaped upon its workforce are two separate instances in which a canister of bear repellant leaked in an Amazon warehouse. Oliver and his journalistic team also found former Amazon employees willing to complain on camera about working conditions in the company’s warehouses and fulfillment centers: they can get very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter; getting to the bathrooms sometimes requires a long walk; pregnant women get no special bathroom accommodations.

Oliver’s researchers even uncovered an incident in which a worker had died on the job and her co-workers were told to carry on working in the presence of her corpse. Amazon disputes much of this, but I have no difficulty believing that incidents like these do occasionally occur. Amazon employs approximately 650,000 people worldwide. That number is higher than the populations of 50 of the world’s 233 countries. It’s entirely possible that at some point a citizen of Luxembourg (population 602,000) has been sprayed by bear repellant, or that workers somewhere in Iceland (360,000) have been required to work around a fallen co-worker. But neither of these things, if they happened, would be proof that working conditions in Luxembourg or Iceland are appalling.

As it happens, I work in an Amazon warehouse in West Sacramento, California. When I showed up at a friend’s annual Fourth of July barbecue, I found myself besieged by well-meaning, right-thinking, Trump-hating friends, all of whom were eager to tell me just what a monstrous company I work for. This was weird because most of them know that Amazon has been a lifesaver for me financially, and they have heard me say how much I enjoy the work and appreciate the money. But they are now convinced that I work in something like a sweatshop. Bemused by this outburst of hostility towards my employer, I was led inside by our host who sat me down in front of his family’s 60-inch plasma TV screen to watch Oliver’s tirade, which he had courteously DVR’d for my benefit.

I have to say I found Oliver’s takedown unpersuasive. It is possible that Oliver was aware his material was a little thin, which is why he padded the segment with scattershot complaints about Walmart and Verizon (the enemy did not seem to be Amazon in particular, but large corporations in general). Warehouse work, Oliver solemnly informed his audience, is strenuous, difficult, and doesn’t pay very well. To most Americans (and people in general, for that matter), this will not have been news. Warehouses serve as temporary holding centers for consumer goods. These goods have to be offloaded from vast pantechnicons and brought into the warehouse. Later they will be loaded onto smaller vehicles, usually delivery vans, and sent out again.

The people who do this loading and unloading spend their days lifting toasters, boxes of kitty litter, minifridges, and thousands of other items, and carrying them to their designated storage rack. It’s a physically demanding job. Warehouses, such as the one I work in, have huge cargo bays that are almost always open to receive the back ends of incoming tractor trailer rigs. When these bays are open it is virtually impossible to control the temperature inside the warehouse artificially. If it is hot outside, the warehouse is likely to be very warm. If it is cold outside, the warehouse is likely to be very cool. Just about every working person in the world is aware of these facts, but John Oliver treated it like a scandalous revelation.

The Amazon facilities Oliver criticized are large fulfillment centers. There is one of these located near the Sacramento airport. I don’t work there. I work in a facility known as a “sortation center” (a name that Oliver would no doubt mock, not without some justification). It is smaller than a fulfillment center but it is still a large warehouse and the people who work in it are required to do a lot of lifting and walking, like warehouse workers everywhere. We are also advised to dress warmly in the winter and to wear light clothing in the summer.

Just about every job in my sortation center could probably be done by a robot. In fact, it amazes me that Amazon hasn’t simply automated the entire facility. After all, robots don’t call in sick, don’t steal from their employers, don’t sue for workman’s compensation, and they never complain about long hours or the heat or the cold. But nor do robots buy consumer goods. If I had to guess, I’d say that Amazon continues to employ lots of human beings because, by putting money into the pockets of working-class people, the company creates more customers. Robots may not buy basketball shoes or hibachi grills, but people sure do.

Apart from employing a lot of staff, Amazon does a number of things progressives ought to like. For instance, it employs a very diverse group of people. On my shift, I work with African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, white people, gay people, deaf people, ex-convicts, and people whose ethnicities and even genders are a mystery to me. I was hired the same day as a young Vietnamese-American named Lenny and a young Mexican-American named Ramon. They are both in their twenties. I am in my sixties. But because we started on the same day and went through training together, we bonded and became work friends.

Although Ramon is an American citizen, his wife, Angela, is not, despite the fact that she has lived in America since she was three months old. He’s angry that President Trump has backed off from the DACA program President Obama put in place to help people like Angela find a path to citizenship. Listening to Ramon discuss his first-hand dealings with immigration authorities has brought the issue alive for me in ways that reading news reports cannot. Ramon’s mother Rita, a woman in her forties who speaks little English, also works with us at the warehouse. I speak no Spanish, but Rita and I are friends. We often work side-by-side.

According to some authorities, Sacramento is the second most racially diverse city in America after Oakland, California. I have seen this statistic cited many times in local publications and it always used to surprise me. Most Sacramentans tend to self-segregate. Even when blacks and whites and browns live in the same neighborhood, or even the same block, they tend to hang out with their own ethnic group. I’ve noticed this in my own life. Almost all of my closest friends are white like me. But Amazon doesn’t allow its employees to self-segregate. The company wants every employee trained on every job in the warehouse. It also wants every employee to be able to interact with a wide variety of other workers.

Every morning, before our shift begins, my fellow Amazonians and I gather at the front of the warehouse where all of our photos and names have been printed on rectangles that resemble refrigerator magnets. These magnetic photos are stuck to a large white board with a diagram that represents every station in the warehouse. One-by-one each person’s magnet is assigned a place on the map. Every day brings a new arrangement. One day I may be pulling packages off the conveyor belt between a young Hispanic woman and an older black male. The next day I may be helping to stow packages in an aisle alongside two Vietnamese women.

This is a good thing. Working and cooperating every day as part of a diverse workforce can help clear up misperceptions. On my second or third day on the job I was paired with a young African-American woman who had been with Amazon a few weeks longer than I had. While talking to Celine, I learned that she Ubered to and from work every day because she didn’t own a car. The cost of the short ride was about $7.50 each way. In other words, she lost an hour’s pay every day just covering her commuting costs. When I discovered that she lived in a low-income housing project less than a mile from my house, I offered to drive her to and from work every day. She accepted.

At first, I was a bit apprehensive about this, perhaps because I’ve seen too many episodes of The Wire. But through my connection to Celine, I learned that the project is in fact just another quiet and orderly place filled with ordinary members of the working poor. Most of the occupants have jobs, and children, and they pay taxes like everyone else. Celine is a single mother with two jobs. In addition to her Amazon gig, she also works at a container store in a shopping mall located ten miles from her house. She takes a bus to that job. In fact, most of the people I work with have other jobs. Ramon works at a jewelry store. A girl named Imani has two other part-time jobs. I work evenings at a local independent bookstore. But almost all of these second and third jobs pay less than Amazon’s minimum wage of $15 an hour.

John Oliver is not the only British journalist to portray Amazon as the modern-day equivalent of an antebellum cotton plantation. In 2013, Carole Cadwalladr, a reporter for the Guardianwent undercover for a week at an Amazon fulfillment center in Swansea. Unbeknownst to her, while she was working there, Adam Littler, a reporter for the BBC’s investigative programme Panorama, was secretly filming his own exposé in the same warehouse. Then, in 2016, a British journalist named James Bloodworth went undercover in an Amazon fulfillment center in the small Staffordshire town of Rugeley. Bloodworth’s employment was part of the research for his book, Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low Wage Britain, an extract of which was subsequently reprinted in the London Times in February 2018 and subtitled “My Month Undercover in an Amazon Warehouse.” In September 2018, he wrote about the experience again for the Guardian (although here he says his stint only lasted three weeks). “This was a workplace environment,” Bloodworth warned the Guardian‘s readers, “in which decency, respect, and dignity were absent.”

And what did these intrepid reporters uncover? A whole lot of nothing, if you ask me. Both Bloodworth and Cadwalladr report that fulfillment center workers are required to do a lot of walking. Cadwalladr notes that all this walking caused one of her co-workers, a 60-something man she refers to as “Les,” to lose two stone (28 pounds) in two months. Bloodworth, on the other hand, claims he gained a stone (14 pounds) during his stint, despite walking up to 14 miles during a single shift according to a pedometer on his wrist (give me an hour or two in a rocking chair and I can put five miles on a pedometer; they are notoriously unreliable devices).

Cadwalladr reports that Amazon employees who call in sick three times in their first three months will be terminated. Bloodworth, who was employed three years after Cadwalladr, reports that six absences due to sickness will cost you your Amazon job in Rugeley. Things do seem to have been improving, then. Each offense is recorded as a “point” on an employee’s record. When I began working for them on March 23 this year, we were told that 13 points would prevent us from transitioning from seasonal employees to permanent ones. Even that figure is misleading. A lot of offenses (such as punching out in the middle of a shift without management approval) will cost an employee only half a point. Amazon recently sent me and my fellow seasonal employees an email informing us that, so long as we’ve been employed with the company for at least 30 days and accumulated no more than 12.5 points, we would be eligible for permanent positions. Theoretically, that means that an Amazon employee who joined the company 30 days ago and left work early without permission 25 times during that period, is nonetheless still eligible for a permanent position.

Some of what Cadwalladr and Bloodworth report seems rather histrionic. For instance, Bloodworth says that he had little time to eat a proper meal and quit buying bread and milk because these products always went stale/sour before he had a chance to use them. A fresh carton of milk is usually good for at least 10 days from the date of purchase. How many cartons of milk went stale during a three-week Amazon stint? And why not refrigerate or freeze your loaf to extend its life? His claim that he gained 14 pounds from junk food over a three week period during which he was walking an average of 10 miles a day doesn’t sound right, either. (It reminded me of “stunt journalist” Morgan Spurlock’s much-derided claim that eating every meal at McDonald’s for 30 days nearly wrecked his physical and emotional health.) Bloodworth even claims the Amazon job made him take up smoking again.

I don’t see why Amazon should be held responsible for its employees’ diets or personal habits, and a lot of this looks to me like buck-passing of personal responsibility. The fact that James Bloodworth was unfortunate enough to work with a racist Romanian woman doesn’t seem to me to be the fault of the company, either. With roughly 650,000 employees worldwide, it would be surprising if Amazon didn’t employ a cross-section of bigots and kooks.

Cadwalladr and Bloodworth make fun of the term “associate” which Amazon applies to its workers, and which both Cadwalladr and Bloodworth describe as “Orwellian.” While I prefer the term “worker,” I have a hard time working up much outrage over this. It certainly doesn’t strike me as particularly sinister or dystopian or totalitarian. Among the words the Merriam-Webster dictionary uses to define “associate” are: “worker,” “employee,” “business partner,” “colleague,” and “entry-level member of an organization.” All of those sound like reasonable terms to apply to a newly hired Amazon worker.

Bloodworth’s description of punishments dished out to Amazonians who break company policy as “draconian” is overwrought and his grievances are sometimes just unreasonable. He worked for Amazon for a total of three weeks but complains that his boss became upset when he took a sick day off. Maybe this is a generational thing, but my father always told me, “Never take a sick day during your first year of employment with any company, no matter what.” My wife and I have literally gone years between sick days. In the ’80s, I worked for a title insurance company that gave out a $500 bonus at the end of the year to any employee who hadn’t taken a sick day, and I earned that bonus five or six years in a row. If Bloodworth believes Amazon is inhumane for looking askance at a worker who asks for a sick day during his first three weeks on the job, then he and I live by different work ethics.

As for safety concerns, well, warehouses are hazardous environments and, somewhere today, an Amazon employee is likely to be injured. But I can attest to the fact that Amazon takes employee safety extremely seriously. Employees are briefed on safety before every single shift. We are required to wear high-visibility vests and protective gloves at all times. Traffic managers ensure that the vehicles continuously coming and going do not endanger employees. The conveyor belts are all equipped with emergency shut-off cords, which any employee can pull at any time should the need arise. Any Amazon employee who violates a safety regulation is likely to find himself without a job in a hurry. We have a fully stocked first-aid center. Our managers are obsessed with keeping us properly hydrated. Free bottled waters and electrolyte-enriched popsicles are located in ice chests all over the facility.

Bloodworth says he worked 10-and-a-half-hour days at Amazon, which sounds pretty brutal. Maybe they do things differently in the UK, but my Amazon sortation center is very flexible about the hours it offers. When I was applying for the job online, Amazon allowed me to create a schedule tailored to my needs. They asked me how many hours a week I’d like to work, and which days of the week suited me best. They asked if I preferred to work evenings, overnight, early mornings, days. After compiling this info, they gave me a shift that fits me like a glove. I work four and a half hours a day, five days a week. My shift begins at 6:30 am and ends at 11 am. But, when I need a bit more money, I can go to work at 5 am and pick up an extra 90 minutes of work pretty much whenever I want. Many of my co-workers add hours to their days whenever they are in need of a little extra cash, and we can take voluntary unpaid time off just about whenever we like.

James Bloodworth worked 35 hours a week. In America, at least, a full-time job consumes at least 40 hours a week. A 35-hour working week doesn’t sound especially harsh to me. And if he was working three 10-and-a-half-hour shifts per week at Amazon, then he worked just nine shifts during his time there (eight, if you subtract the sick day he took). I’ve worked about 70 shifts since I started at Amazon, and I still wouldn’t presume to offer myself as an expert on the conditions of the entire workforce. But I have seen enough to know that the picture painted by tourist journalists is highly misleading and unhelpful.

Amazon is not a perfect employer. I have a litany of gripes I’d be happy to share with you sometime. But I also have complaints about the small bookstore I work at in the evenings. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t have complaints about their employer. Progressives tend to clamor about exposés that portray large multinational corporations like Walmart, Amazon, and McDonald’s as nothing more than cold-hearted exploiters of the working class. This type of thing does no one any good. If Amazon is going to be castigated publicly every time one of its 650,000 employees has a bad day, it may well decide to automate as many positions as possible and do away with most of its human workforce.

The problem with exposés like those mentioned here is that they don’t tell us how Amazon warehouses stack up against, say, warehouses operated by Home Depot (a former employer of mine), Starbucks, the New York Times, the Ford Motor Company, Microsoft, Barnes and Noble, or even Warner Media (the parent company of John Oliver’s television home HBO). We don’t know how many employee complaints a company with 650,000 workers can expect in a typical day or month or year. On July 1, the same day that Slate ran a largely uncritical story about Oliver’s anti-Amazon tirade, it published a highly critical story by Daniel Engber about the way (primarily right-wing) media outlets had reported on an alleged spike in American tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic.

When Engber actually took a look at the statistics for himself, he found that, not only is the Dominican Republic probably not experiencing a spike in American tourist deaths this year, it may actually be experiencing fewer tourist deaths in 2019 than in an average year. He recapped some of the more hysterical reports and then noted:

What a morbid waste of everybody’s time. Whether we’re talking about 12 deaths, or 25, or even 50, it’s wrong to treat the mere proliferation of these tragedies as proof that US tourists are in danger. If we want to know for sure that something is amiss—or even to make an educated guess about the same—we’ll need to have a baseline death rate for comparison. How often do Americans usually die while drinking whiskey in their rooms in Punta Cana? Or, to be less specific: How many US tourists die during a normal year of visits to the Dominican Republic?

Engber combed through governmental research as well as academic research. He asked questions, crunched numbers, and displayed an admirable skepticism for the dominant media narrative. In other words, he practiced responsible journalism.

Six years ago, I learned first-hand just how obstinate people can be when confronted with facts inconvenient to their preferred political narratives. I had just become one of the first beneficiaries of Obamacare by signing up for health coverage through Covered California. At family gatherings, my wife’s conservative family would say things like, “Not a single person has been able to sign up for health care through the state exchanges.” And: “The cost is so high that nobody who needs Obamacare can possibly afford it.” And: “Just wait until you try to access your coverage. You’ll have to pay hundreds of dollars just to see a nurse.” None of this was true, of course, but they refused to accept it. I started carrying around a copy of my monthly Covered California bill so I could prove to these people that Obamacare was working for at least some people. “That’s Covered California,” they’d say dismissively. “Nowhere on that bill does it say anything about Obamacare.” Try as I might, I couldn’t make them believe that Covered California was Obamacare and that it only cost me a dollar a month.

I faced the same stubborn refusal to acknowledge complicating information after John Oliver’s Amazon report, only this time it was my progressive acquaintances who were resistant. I assured everyone at the Fourth of July barbecue that the sortation center where I work is not a miserable sweatshop, that I am treated well, and that I am relatively well remunerated for work I enjoy. But they would not listen. They just looked at me sadly and shook their heads as if to say, “He’s drunk the corporate Kool-Aid.”

I don’t object to journalists writing about the trials and tribulations of Amazon employees. I only wish they would do so fairly. Just because a journalist has found an Amazon employee somewhere who got sprayed with bear repellant, that doesn’t mean Amazon employees spend their days in mortal fear of a chemical attack. In order for consumers to make informed purchasing choices, we need fair-minded and accurate reporting about the companies we patronize, not scaremongering polemics preaching a black-and-white gospel of tyranny and exploitation. Not all work done for a global commercial juggernaut like Amazon (or Walmart, or McDonald’s, or Starbucks) is, by definition, harsh, cruel, and damn near inhumane, fit only to be described ominously as “Orwellian” and “draconian.”

To university-educated media professionals like Carole Cadwalladr, James Bloodworth, and John Oliver, an Amazon warehouse must seem like the Black Hole of Calcutta. But I’ve done low-paying manual labor for most of my working life, and rarely have I appreciated a job as much as my role as an Amazon associate. Oliver insists that Amazon should be spared no criticism just because it raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour. That may not sound like much to him, but it’s huge for people like me. Among US states, California (along with Washington and Massachusetts) has the highest minimum wage at $11 an hour (for companies with more than 25 employees, it’s $12). The $15 an hour I earn from Amazon is nearly 40 percent higher than the $11 an hour I earn from the bookstore. In fact, thanks to Jeff Bezos’s generosity, I may soon be able to give up my second job altogether.

I am writing this on July 15—Amazon Prime Day, one of the busiest days of the year on the Amazon calendar. I put in a six-hour shift this morning at the West Sacramento warehouse. The workday wasn’t brutal. The company treated us all to a pancake breakfast in the break room during our 10-minute break. Of course, you can’t eat a pancake breakfast healthily in 10 minutes, but no one in charge complained about the fact that most of us spent at least 20 minutes eating. Yes, we were all encouraged to chant Prime Day slogans during our morning stretch. And we were all given little “Amazon Prime 2019” lapel pins and other bits of “flair” to wear on our high-visibility safety vests. So what? A bit of company spirit is downright American. I don’t mind being a small cog in the machinery of American commerce. It keeps the bills paid and my stomach from growling. But if John Oliver and his ilk keep harping away at how inhumanely Amazon treats its workers, Bezos might decide to completely automate his operation and people like me will be out of a job. And that will not only ruin my Fourth of July, it will ruin every other day of the year as well.

 

Kevin Mims is a freelance writer living in Sacramento, CA. His work has appeared in numerous venues including the New York Times, National Public Radio’s Morning EditionSalon, and many others. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinMims16

Photo by Bryan Angelo on Unsplash

Quillette makes a small part of its revenue from Amazon sponsorship. Names (apart from the author’s) have all been changed.

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176 Comments

  1. Morgan Foster says

    Just got an Amazon package delivered to my door.

    Thanks, Kevin, if it passed through your hands earlier.

    • cora says

      I won’t shop at Amazon. I prefer to patronize small, locally owned shops where I have personal interaction with my neighbours, and get highly personalized service. And I don’t shop at Amazon because I don’t want to contribute to the health risk for posties carrying up to 60 lbs in their bags every shift.

      • ossicle88 says

        Captain Virtue, is it really you?! Swoon

      • Jeff Bezos is Mao.

        As for books, I buy my used books entirely from Half Price Books. Take note, folks; Chairman Mao’s company makes the majority of its profit off resellers, who it constantly makes jump through hoops. Outside of books, you can hit eBay or other resell-it places. B&H PhotoVideo for cameras, for example. HPB for books, I already mentioned.

        But the bottom line is that Jeff Bezos is Mao.

        https://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2018/10/jeff-bezos-is-mao.html

        • Damian O'Connor says

          Do the authors get royalties off the second hand books you buy? Or are you just exploiting them?

        • Ian MacKenzie says

          People who brag about buying only used books don’t seem to give a hoot about the authors trying to make a living. Kindle and Amazon are the only reason that 90% of authors can even get published.

      • Ian MacKenzie says

        Cora, seriously, have you ever worked at a “small locally owned business?” They are the absolute worst for real employees. No benefits, no flexibility, random owner abuse, no HR to complain to, way lower pay. My parents and grandparents pined for a job at a huge company because they were so much better than any crappy job at a local store or small business.

    • judy says

      Thank you for a REAL world perspective on Amazon. I think Amazon is great- I just joined prime and I’m looking forward to accessing their videos since I refuse to pay for cable tv. I can patronize small businesses if I want to (sometimes I do, though it costs a bit more) that use Amazon marketplace and thus can operate their business with minimum overhead and minimum local government interference. I can think of a lot worse jobs that get less pay here in Northern California!

  2. Caligula says

    “Just because a journalist has found an Amazon employee somewhere who got sprayed with bear repellant, that doesn’t mean Amazon employees spend their days in mortal fear of a chemical attack.”

    Yet this seems to be a standard journalistic method (especially if you’ve got a photo). Finding a single example of something and generalizing may generate clicks (especially if an accompanying photo is spectacularly horrible) but it’s hardly good logic.

    An obvious case was that photo of the father and daughter who died trying to cross the southern border of the USA. Was that not spectacularly horrible? Why, yes, it surely was. But not one journalist covering this seemed interested in comparing death rates of those trying to cross the southern U.S. border today with the rates of three or five years ago.

    Is it not obvious that so long as there is illegal border crossings over inhospitable terrain there will be some deaths, and some may be gruesome? Obviously a photo like that pushes emotional buttons, yet wouldn’t it be more relevant to research whether such deaths are increasing or decreasing (broken down by cause of death, if possible)?

    Or has the journalists’ motto become, “Why think when you can emote”?

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Caligula

      “An obvious case was that photo of the father and daughter who died trying to cross the southern border of the USA. Was that not spectacularly horrible?”

      The news media routinely refuses to print the photographs of drowned American children out of consideration for the families’ feelings.

      But a dead foreign child of color is a useful political weapon. Too good to waste.

      • mirrormere says

        @Morgan Foster

        Publishing that photo was a horrible thing for them to do and just illustrates how heartless pro-illegal-immigration these journalists are.

        • JakeF20 says

          Remember the Vietnam picture of the little girl who had just been exposed to Napalm? Sure you do.

          That was a turning point in public opinion. Sometimes we the public need to see the atrocities instead of continuing to bury our heads in the sand because something might make us uncomfortable.

          • ossicle88 says

            Well, if that had been representative of an atrocity, then perhaps. It was not, though. It was representative of an economic migrant endangering the life of his child while breaking another country’s laws.

          • ms100 says

            @JakeF20

            “Remember the Vietnam picture of the little girl who had just been exposed to Napalm? Sure you do.”

            Guess they should have shown the death photos of those 2 high school girls in Long Island who were hacked/beaten to death with machetes and baseball bats by MS-13.

            Yes, a “turning point in public opinion”.

      • No sharia says

        Good point. The same thing happened with the drowned Syrian boy off the Turkish coast.

      • Stephanie says

        And of course throwing pictures of dead kids in our face comes with the message that we should have somehow saved them from their parents’ terrible decision-making. If only we offered free plane tickets to everyone looking to immigrate, this never would have happened!

        The message never seems to be that if these people knew they would be immediately put on a plane and sent back home, they would not have taken such suicidal risks. That the way that we incentivise illegal entry is partly responsible for people making the foolish decisions that lead to their deaths and their children’s deaths. But hey, John Oliver and his type need someone to scrub their toilet, so who cares how many people die?

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ Caligula

      Good point on the border crossing. Found an article in established print media (I can’t remember the publication, unfortunately), which showed that there were 6,000 illegal border crossing deaths between 2000 and 2014.

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        @Geary

        Are you thinking of this?

        ‘….Nearly 6,000 Migrants Have Died Along the Mexico-U.S. Border Since 2000. More than 40,000 migrants have died around the world; By Colin Schultz
        SMITHSONIAN.COM
        OCTOBER 1, 2014;

        In the past 14 years, more than 6,000 people have died trying to migrate through the U.S.’s southern border, a new report by the International Organisation for Migration says. Just in the past year, as many as 445 people died trying to pass into the U.S., reports the Toronto Star; that number comes from the U.S. Border Control and may be a low estimate……’

        Not sure what point you were trying to make with this number. That the journalists were wrong to publicize a pair of deaths along the US border, when so many others have died without being remembered?

        • Geary Johansen says

          @ Jack B. Nimble

          Yeah, that’s the one mate. Cheers for that. My point would be that there is plenty of blame to go around- just like the cages weren’t put there by the Trump administration. My biggest gripe about political polarisation, is that people don’t have policies that are wrong anymore, they are now just bad, or evil, people. It’s terrible for the cultures of the West, and is ultimately divisive and fragments society. To me, one of the biggest advantages of being a centrist is that I can get along with anyone- although I have to admit, IRL, with increasing frequency, I often find myself defending social conservatives to liberals, and vice versa, which is annoying.

          I was watching Eric Kaufman today on Triggernometry today, and one of the most fascinating observations was that it has long been proven that there is absolutely no correlation between ingroup preference and outgroup hostility. Social conservativism is like a taste, rather than an ideology, and is hereditary (though not genetic, I would imagine)- it’s a simple preference for your own culture, group and circumstances- it correlates to being for the death penalty, wanting to raise your kids strictly and wanting to go on holiday to the same place every year- but not with racism.

          The tragic irony is that by emphasising multiculturalism, promoting diversity (in any place other than the university or the workplace), deriding national culture, shared values and censoring concerns over the loss of culture- we have inadvertently been creating, rather than reducing the conditions in which racism can thrive. Because, although preferring your own group or culture does not correlate with racism, feeling culturally marginalised, excluded, discriminated against or censored, can- but only at the extremes. Intolerance of intolerance breeds intolerance, it never cures it.

          If we really want a more tolerant society, one in which racism is a thing of the past, we have to get back to the ideas of common humanity and shared cultural values as an umbrella concept that unites all people within a country. This is because shared common identity reduces racial divisions- you only have to look at Americans or Brits in airports or bars abroad, to see how strong this urge is. Plus, if we really want to fix the problems of structural racial disparities between groups -and heal the resentment caused by preferential hiring to correct for it- we need to start having conversations about replacing the disastrous consequences of the progressive educational methodology on outcomes for poorer kids and raising kids in neighbourhoods with a high proportion of productive fathers (crucial for boys).

          If you are under 49 in America you are only 6% likely to see interracial marriage as a bad thing, as opposed to 14% if you are over 65- that’s progress, by any measure. Plus, you have to remember it is likely to cut across all races (though not necessarily proportionately), can be the ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ thing and can often be the result of the feeling of the loss of culture and identity (so social conservatives are more prone to this fear, with Rep./Lean Rep. showing a total of 12%, and Dem./Lean Dem. 6%). Interestingly, women are more likely to see interracial marriage as a bad thing (12%), than men (7%). The liberal idea that if you simply promote diversity and multiculturalism, and exclude cultural concerns from mainstream narratives, as a means of reducing racism, is deeply flawed and has led to the rise of Populism to defend cultural identity, not whiteness. It’s why the selfsame people who swung it for Obama, voted for Trump.

          For the social conservative deriding or eroding their culture, is like vandalising or burning down the only home they can ever own. It confines all their ideas, their pride in their community and their sense of belonging, to a place in memory, that they can only ever revisit in their mind. It cuts them off from interacting and trusting the world, just as surely as a stroke or a major trauma would. It’s why they see the modern move towards becoming ‘anywhere’s’ rather than ‘somewhere’s’ as direct threat to their very identity- because they can never thrive as ‘anywhere’s’ and would rather live poor in the community they grew up in, than be affluent in a new place. And the biggest consequence of this inability to understand or talk to each other across the political divide- people are now far more concerned about a loved one marrying across political parties, than across race.

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Geary Johansen

            You: ‘……I was watching Eric Kaufman today on Triggernometry today, and one of the most fascinating observations was that it has long been proven that there is absolutely no correlation between ingroup preference and outgroup hostility……..’

            That quote totally threw me, so I tracked down the original source: Brewer, M. (1999). The psychology of prejudice: Ingroup love or outgroup hate? J. Social Issues, 55(3), 429-444. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/0022-4537.00126

            You [or possibly Kaufmann] have totally misinterpreted what Brewer said! She said there was no NECESSARY CORRELATION or psychological connection between ingroup love and outgroup hate. But in certain societies and situations, ingroup love CAN predispose persons to outgroup hate:

            “…..Many discriminatory perceptions and behaviors are motivated primarily by the desire to promote and maintain positive relationships within the ingroup rather than by any direct antagonism toward outgroups. Ingroup love is not a necessary precursor of outgroup hate. However, the very factors that make ingroup attachment and allegiance important to individuals also provide a fertile ground for antagonism and distrust of those outside the ingroup boundaries. The need to justify ingroup values in the form of moral superiority to others, sensitivity to threat, the anticipation of interdependence under conditions of distrust, social comparison processes, and power politics all conspire to connect ingroup identification and loyalty to disdain and overt hostility toward outgroups……” Brewer pp. 441-442. [emphasis added]

          • Geary Johansen says

            @ Jack B. Nimble

            Great research. Thanks for that, it really helps. Kaufman didn’t necessarily mislead, his book probably cites the background in more detailed terms, but the interview didn’t go into detail on the source quoted.

            ‘sensitivity to threat, the anticipation of interdependence under conditions of distrust, social comparison processes, and power politics all conspire to connect ingroup identification and loyalty to disdain and overt hostility toward outgroups……”

            So In the context of Trump, and set against the background of a white population that clearly feels discriminated against through PC by not being up to date with the latest terminology; undermined by the cheaper labour of migrant populations; the feeling of being abandoned by the Democratic party; and the perceived dissolution of valued cultural emblems such as flag, country and community- Trump, Brexit and other Populist movements begin to be more understandable.

            I think it’s important to make the observation that almost all privilege in the white population is heavily concentrated in the hands of the top 10% and highly stratified- most notable in the fact that if you are white and in the top 1% of the ability spectrum you are far less likely to get into an elite university than the child of someone from the top 10% in the top 5% of the ability spectrum (at least in the US). It’s also why politicians always want to expound about opportunities for all and never want to discuss social mobility- because they know what a red hot issue it is, both in the fear it evokes and the resentment it causes. There was a book a few years back that discussed the phenomena, called ‘Dream Hoarders’ that I always meant to get round to reading…

            My point being that this is probably why all the outgroup hostility is directed towards the liberal elites in the US, and the political classes in the UK. It’s likely why immigrants are seen as the principal cause of cultural erosion beyond the academic, social and political elites that have abandoned the less fortunate within their own demographics, and also why existing minorities within Western countries are largely excluded from hostility, because they are protected under the umbrella of shared nationality, language and cultural identity.

            Ironic really that the very fact that the contempt and disdain shown for the socially privileged, would appear to prove that the cultural phenomena of almost uniquely harmonious multiracial societies in the West is holding, at least for now. But it does make the need to fix underlying structural disparities, renew common unifying cultural identity and slow the sense of cultural erosion which unfettered immigration accelerates, all the more important. At the moment the tension is largely confined to the political and the culture wars- God help us if it spreads.

            P.S. I am particularly interested in how Singapore models multiple ethnic groups into a single culturally cohesive country, and whether it differs at all from the Western model- please give links, if you have them.

    • The Ulcer says

      Totally agree with everything you said. And I will add that part of the decline of objective journalism is a show like Oliver’s which seeks to entertain rather than educate. He’s a comedian yet we treat his show like it’s a news program.

    • “How is Quillette funded?

      We are a for-profit venture and we are funded primarily through reader donations. We also receive modest funding through online advertising via Amazon Affiliates.”

      Oh dear, this is a little awkward. And possibly illegal. At the very least, it creates yet another fog of impropriety around Quillette’s editorial and journalistic standards and integrity.

      • JWatts says

        Did it occur to you that almost all large news organizations routinely do pieces on some company that advertises with them?

        Is every pro-government news report from NPR a scandal in your mind?

      • Shawn T says

        And the author is a current employee, not a “disgruntled former employee.” How dare he pen an opinion piece…must be biased. Everyone knows only the disgruntled are allowed a voice! Nearly all internet ad revenue flows through Amazon or Google. It is part of the operating fabric of all things online. Illegal? You are laughable. Your inability to take an opinion piece at face value is a far greater deficiency than Quillete’s scant source of revenue beyond subscriptions and donations. Judge it, comment on it, dispute it, agree with it, whatever. You rail against the stage while ignoring the players and that is just a sad, simple approach to discourse. You might as well throw in a f@ck or sh!t or something, you folks always seem to think that counts as strong intellectual argument.

  3. BrainFireBob says

    Pretty much sums it up.

    When I grew up, AC was a luxury for the rich, cable the same, having fans in each room was great.

    Now these people think work conditions are inhumane if other people are allowed to play their music too loud or don’t have a sticker on their cubicle wall asserting that their cube is a safe space.

    This tells me there’s some rank hypocrisy going on, because if noise et al bothers them so much, they’re certainly not using the public transit systems these same people advocate forcing on the working class.

    They don’t realize how good they have it, because they’re too busy thinking they should have what’s in the executive suite.

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ BrainFireBob

      Good comment. I can certainly relate to the loading bay issue in the story. We had a guy who used to work glass intake, spending half his time outside, who just couldn’t understand why people moaned when he left the doors open on cold days- his standard refrain was ‘It’s not cold!’. He was a lot more empathetic and willing to change his habits, after we had shifted him, for a fortnight, to a job in the same area, working inside.

  4. Chip says

    “But if John Oliver and his ilk keep harping away at how inhumanely Amazon treats its workers, Bezos might decide to completely automate his operation and people like me will be out of a job.”

    You realize, that’s not how decisions about automation work, right?

    • BrainFireBob says

      The logic chain is that these “well meaning” armchair business people will apply pressure to alter the cost structure (ie, spike pay and benefits so much without changing the actual value of the work done) so automation becomes a sufficiently desirable outcome to eliminate the resultant bad press, then automation happens.

      I realize a teacher’s an educated professional. Education is important. If you’re a kindergarten teacher, what you are doing is not so advanced or difficult that, even with a PhD, you deserve to make the same money a neurosurgeon does.

      Similarly, the concept of a “living wage” is a nonsense concept to advocate for the floor having a lifestyle that will inevitably rise out of their reach in terms of monetary qualification as the floor is raised.

      • Chip says

        Almost all Amazon warehouses will be automated within a few years, regardless of what the employees do or don’t do.

        At some point a combination of hardware and software will be cheaper than Kevin, and the decision will be made at that very moment.

        Opponents of minimum wage laws and unions make the point that companies behave this way because the market is sending signals about the true value of labor, and they are correct.

        But no one seems to be explaining why there is such a vast army of people like Kevin who have no skills which the market values.

        • Nicholas says

          They are automated to the point where it makes sense to. You’re imagining building sophisticated robots is a slam-dunk while humans are capable and cheap.

        • Geary Johansen says

          @ Chip

          It’s all about cost recovery. There is also the issue that most investors are idiots- share prices can disproportionately rise for stupid automation projects. There is no point in replacing someone with a robot if it takes 25 years to repay the capital expenditure. I’ve worked for companies that work cost recovery in two years, but the absolute limit should be four years.

          The reasons are extensive. There are maintenance costs. There is capital depreciation (which is at least tax deductible in most tax systems). Humans are inherently more versatile, and by employing them, you protect yourself from the innovation of your competitors. You can earn money from what you would have expended. You can pay out dividends (dividend volatility is still a great way of value investing, especially if you’re willing to dig deeper).

          Most companies fail to really encompass what maximising shareholder value really means. It means protecting the interest of your long-term investors. Because if you prioritise speculators, the fairweather and fickle types, then you are inherently exposes your company to risk. Forget the stakeholder stuff. With the wrong type of shareholders scrutinising your company, it won’t be long before somebody shorts you for having one bad year.

        • Kevin is not one of the people with no skills which the market values. Kevin is a highly educated, very skilled, and doubtless well-remunerated freelance writer on a bit of a personal project. Doubtless well-intentioned; but “people like me” will be out of a job? Hardly.

          • watcher says

            “(…) doubtless well-remunerated freelance writer ”

            Lolololololololololololololol. Lol.

        • Jesse says

          Chip,

          The chance that Amazon completely automates its warehouses even within ten years is zero. You don’t understand the enormous complexity of organized manual labor in the real world. Automation is not a threat to workers who fill in the (many) gaps between mechanical production and distribution processes. It’s a threat to low-level cognitive workers and administrators (i.e., symbol manipulators$.

          Anyone who thinks that manual labor is on the verge of total automation has never tried to remodel a kitchen. We are a century away from creating a robot that can handle the overwhelming messiness of the real world.

          • The problem comes when we automate the traditional “step up” jobs, like driving & loading dock. I forget if it was Bud or Coor, but one did a fully automated road trip warehouse to warehouse delivery a few years ago, trailer loading & unloading plus OTR travel.

            The problem is the disappearance of mortgage affording, health care having, education obtaining, retirement building employment for working class people.

            That vast swath of citizenry between manual labor & professional classes. Those are exactly the kinds of jobs most likely to automate. We’ve seen a marked return of companies that fled to low wage countries recently. But they’re not bringing much employment back to the US, they’re bringing robots.

            Even the last bastion of handwork in the textile industry has fallen. Computers can now see in 3D & manipulate cloth in 3D to sew gussets, sleeves & other rounded & gathered articles that once required the human eye & human hands to fit & sew.

  5. Hunter C says

    “Maybe this is a generational thing, but my father always told me, “Never take a sick day during your first year of employment with any company, no matter what.” My wife and I have literally gone years between sick days….If Bloodworth believes Amazon is inhumane for looking askance at a worker who asks for a sick day during his first three weeks on the job, then he and I live by different work ethics. ”

    Please, please, PLEASE hurry up and die, boomers.
    -signed sincerely, millenials

    • bumble bee says

      It’s going to be quite hot this weekend snowflake, might want to just stay inside watching cartoons and playing video games. Oh and don’t forget to have mommy cut the crusts off your PB&J.

      • Nakatomi Plaza says

        If you’re sick, you’re sick. Stay home. It doesn’t have to be a political choice. Of course, Amazon’s health insurance is probably good enough that employees don’t have to worry about their health, right?

        • Morgan Foster says

          @Nakatomi Plaza

          “If you’re sick, you’re sick. Stay home.”

          LOL. Only a fool uses a sick day when they’re sick. You might as well feel like shit at work as at home. Sick days are for having fun.

          You don’t work, do you.

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Morgan Foster

            ‘…….LOL. Only a fool uses a sick day when they’re sick…..’

            How about a food-service or farm worker who comes in to work when they have a contagious disease but are still on their feet? Do you want some norovirus or Cryptosporidium with your salad?

            I support universal health care and sick leave even for undocumented workers–because I’m thinking of my health, not theirs.

            Check out http://www.barfblog.com if you think food safety is a minor issue.

          • Morgan,

            That works well as long as you have an easy job (that is, mentally easy). If I go into work feeling tired and cruddy I can’t do what they’re paying me to do.

          • Ravan Asteris says

            I hate working with people like you.

            If you are contagious, stay home, don’t infect your coworkers.

            Seriously, coming to work sick & contagious is an a$$hole move.

      • Caitlin Mac Grieffle says

        Millennials go into anaphylactic shock when they eat PB&J sandwiches, even if the crusts are cut off.

    • mirrormere says

      Actually – you want us to retire, not die, thus providing more jobs for millennials in the form of geriatric health care. Hmmm…on second thought I think I’d rather die.

      Here’s to ten more years in the workforce!
      –signed a VERY healthy boomer

      • Wish you boomers would lay off the millennials for once. Firstly, you are the generation that raised us so… partial to blame for any issues that you see in us. Secondly, we aren’t all lazy entitled SJW’s. We bared the majority of the brunt of the last two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The oldest millennials are now almost 40, my best friend from my time in the service will be retiring from the USMC after 20 years and six tours of duty, not exactly a snowflake. Your generation has just as many snowflakes that went out and started organizations like the weathermen or protested the Vietnam war and started this whole SJW you keep pinning on us. So just do us a favor and try not to assume the whole generations is a shitshow.

        • mirrormere says

          @cloudedhalo – we’re responding to the jibe by Hunter C, wishing boomers would die already. If millennials can’t take some good-natured back-and-forth (and note – none of us wants you to die), then for pity’s sake, don’t fire one over the bow!

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ Hunter C

      An employment contract is a contract between two (legally) equal parties. Any unnecessary sick days are a breach of the terms of most contracts and is bad faith. My advice buy a pocket-size black book, and keep a list of all the money you make for employer and all the money you save, above and beyond your job description. I rarely received less than a 10% pay increase. In a belt-tightening year, I only received a 5% pay increase and negotiated with my employer to pro-rata down my hours in lieu of pay.

      One top tip, ask your boss whether you can be in charge of checking office invoices. Take a print out of all invoices and periodically compare them quarterly or half-yearly. Use a highlighter to cross off items. You would be surprised how often suppliers try to get you to pay more by supplying a similar item that costs more. I once had a stationary supplier who ended up paying me for three consecutive months, because they had overcharged me for paper. Make sure to tell your boss that they will look better, as a leader, for getting you to do it- otherwise they’ll take your idea and do it themselves.

      Be inquisitive and ask your boss whether you can visit other areas of the business in rare slow times or during lunch breaks. It’s in the spaces between departments that money is saved or made. Work for a smaller employer for less money, in preference to large employers for more, because you get a lot more experience with small employers and their pay systems tend to be less rigorously enforced than big firms. Always create a one page summary of anything particularly good you’ve done and ask your boss to circulate it to their boss- it will make it easier to argue for pay rises and promotions on your behalf.

      Be honest. I had an uncle by marriage, who was asked by his bosses boss what he thought of his boss. His reply was ‘He’s a bit of a knob, but he’s bloody good at his job’. That comment clinched his promotion. People who move diagonally between businesses, inevitably move up the corporate ladder more quickly, as opposed to those who try to advance vertically within the same business- this is because if you have worked for 3 or 4 companies, your prospective employer will want access to all the trivial embedded bits of knowledge that other organisations use to be more efficient or effective.

      Nobody minds if you are assertive. It’s seen as a plus. Because if you can argue your own position, you can argue your team’s or employers position. It’s makes you an ideal candidate for promotion to leadership, because you can articulate why your employees don’t need a new monitor or a pay rise, for doing the job they are paid to do. Some women fall afoul of the idea that being assertive is what can earn women the ‘bitch’ reputation- it’s not- it’s holding personal grudges for past-professional disputes. Most men don’t even realise that this violates our swift conflict resolution and forget/forgive response, which is instinctively built into us by our hunter-provider-protector biology, to make us more effective at bonding into effective hunting teams.

      People respect consistency, more than they do kindness, because then they know where they stand. When an employee was bereaved, I used to write a reminder in my diary for six months and a year after there bereavement. Because I knew from personal experience, that everyone is all concern and walking on eggshells for the first couple of months, then they forget.

      Just a few tips for all those millennials out there.

  6. somsai says

    Lots of fun to read, thanks.

    Ordinarily specific examples are used to humanize factual numbers supplied with the article. Modern “journalism” being what it is, factual data is too hard to look up, more clicks just to write outrage.

    Today, here, there are many guys tripping pipe on the drill rigs I see all over, it’s 102 degrees and there’s no shade on the rig floor. They usually work 12 hour shifts. Being soaked in oil doesn’t lend itself to comfort either. In the winter, it’s cold.

    That Amazon job sounds ok.

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ somsai

      Yeah, but the pays not as good and you wouldn’t get decent free food. My dad always used to say that the third best job on the supply ship/boat (varies by tonnage), was the cook. The pay used to be good and if you’re good at it, then you’ll be popular. He was the Captain.

    • Stephanie says

      “Modern “journalism” being what it is, factual data is too hard to look up…”

      I blame the humanities departments that “educated” these people. They peddle indoctrination and as a result critical thinking and data analysis are simply not taught. Ignorance of proper investigative methods is the generous interpretation, consciously issuing propaganda understood to be false being the alternative.

  7. OleK says

    Nitpick: it has been called Workers’ Compensation for 40 years now, NOT Workman’s. This isn’t some new PC change. I found this out in 2000 after graduating college and working for a major property/casualty insurer.

  8. greg hawkins says

    It’s actually pretty fun in the Amazon facilities – and not much of the social blah-blah which occurs during the non-productive time at corporate locations. I think the HR screeners do a great job – using the AI generated algorithms – of keeping the true malcontents outside. We were there to perform the tasks to the best of our abilities. Never felt a moment of oppression.

  9. bumble bee says

    Never let the truth get in the way of any self-righteous rants. These 24/7 propaganda “infomercials” that have been passed off as comedy are so lame and boring. Anyone who can’t see through the BS they force feed the inept masses should see a mental health professional because you have been brainwashed.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      You sound like an absolutely miserable person. I assume you’re talking about John Oliver’s show, though it’s tough to say because your response is so insanely out of proportion. You don’t like the show. Great. Good for you. Don’t watch. Why the need to judge others so ruthlessly for watching what they want?

      I swear, you people. You pretend like you’re about freedom and rational thought, but you fucking HATE anybody who doesn’t see the world precisely the way you do. You think everybody else is mentally ill and/or brainwashed who isn’t a mirror reflection of your sad, sad selves.

      • David George says

        “so insanely out of proportion” as opposed to your measured, reasonable “fucking HATE anybody who doesn’t see the world precisely the way you do” response. NP. Have you any self awareness at all?
        It’s pretty clear from this mans experience that Oliver and his ilk are manufacturing stories for the simple minded and gullible. They need to be called out, exposed for the faux compassionate charlatans they are..

      • ga gamba says

        You don’t like the show. Great. Good for you. Don’t watch. Why the need to judge others so ruthlessly for watching what they want?

        Haven’t many commentators here been telling you the same for many months now in response your near daily rants complaining about this site and the articles it publishes? People here have even offered you constructive advice, such as you submitting your own articles to bring to light the issues you think Quillette ignores. Have you done so? Indeed not.

        The difference between you and BB is that he’s not visiting Comedy Central’s and John Oliver’s sites and leaving unhinged rant after unhinged rant whereas you’re a ceaseless stalker, a creepy harasser. If Quillette were a person, you’d probably have been arrested several times by now. You’d be on a registry.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ Nakatomi

        I like John Oliver’s show. But it’s nuanced. His show on mobile homes is a prime example. He was right to criticise people for buying up land, to charge poor people more rent- because it’s a clear instance of third party abuse- if the land owners want the occupants to vacate then they should pay the $30K needed to haul the land renters home to a new and cheaper site.

        But to criticise Warren Buffet for making mobile homes, just because they lose money over time. Come on! Residential property is not an investment, nor is a home- at least not in financial terms. That’s a middle class dream, sold by real estate agents and bankers, to gullible people to get them to take on life-changing levels of debt. It might have been a good investment back in ’92, when a terraced house in a good neighbourhood cost £40K in the UK, but it’s not now. The historic lending ratios for banks were 3.5 x the annual income of the primary earner, and 1 to 1.5 x times the second earner.

        Plus, the idea that building cheap housing for some people, is wrong because it’s not an investment, betrays a singular lack of empathy for older people who are savings-rich and income-poor. If you an older person, who can’t afford the upkeep on your house, then downsizing frees up much needed capital to live out your remaining years in relative comfort, and afford such luxuries as bread, eggs and milk. What’s the alternative? Letting the bank foreclose on your home, buy it up at auction, resell it and take all your savings?

        He is funny though and usually well-researched, if slanted.

        • Geary Johansen says

          @ Quillette

          Can we have an article on the F.D.I.C. and mortgage repossessions. There are some interesting stories out there about judges who have denied standing to banks that have bought debt from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I would do it myself, but you need someone who understands at least some of the legal and financial processes involved- US-based would probably help as well, possibly by interviewing lawyers who have represented people in danger of repossession for no reason.

        • Bob the Builder says

          “But to criticise Warren Buffet for making mobile homes, just because they lose money over time.“

          Virtually all homes depreciate over time. Land tends to appreciate, so houses with foundations enjoy the illusion of appreciation while mobile homes are seen as depreciating assets.

      • bumble bee says

        @NP,

        I used to watch John Oliver, as well as Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report. They used to be quite funny and entertaining. Then in 2016 they lost their marbles and went full on to political rants. The absolute hatred they spew is pathological, not to mention boring. Then every single talk show, comedy shows, jumped right on board. I don’t want their hate in my life so I no longer watch any of them. Even the commercial promos are venomous enough to keep me channel surfing. Those few who still watch are only united in their hate. Perhaps instead of usurping the Comedy in Comedy channel, someone will start a hate channel for all of them and they can provide the 24/7 hatred so many live and feed on.

        Even your own comment reinforces my comments. Seek out help, because life was not meant to be filled with so much hatred and rage. People do not have to live like this, it is a choice so choose kindness, understanding, forgiveness, patients, and come off that ledge before people implode from all that hate and rage.

        • Cassandra says

          IT is the same story with most of the British ‘comedy’ shows (Dead Ringers, Have I got news for you, Now Show etc etc). Used to be amusing, some things more than others ( but no doubt someone else would find the reverse). Now they are all just the same boring, nasty, predictable anti Trump, anti Brexit rants, week after week.

          I suppose at least the fat woman who advocated throwing battery acid at people she disagreed with wasn’t quite so boring…….

        • @bumble bee

          I used to watch those shows, too. Bush-era Stewart and Colbert were amazing.

          Now I get all the political comedy I need from the Baroness von Sketch Show. Four women, three of them from Second City stock. They all basically parody the hell out of “woke” culture and office politics, plus some sketches on just completely random and hilarious shit. It is really, really worth watching. You probably haven’t heard of it if you’re not Canadian, so look it up.

          Remember how back in the day, The Colbert Report was loved by a lot of people on the right, because he played his character so well that they actually believed he was on their side? I’m pretty sure that’s the only explanation for how Baroness has survived into what will soon be its fourth season without being canceled, what with all the jokes they’ve made about privilege checking, being born to rich parents, and even rape. I’m constantly in stitches with how much they get away with.

  10. Nakatomi Plaza says

    Great, Quillette found a guy to tell an anecdotal story about how Amazon doesn’t suck as much as we thought. Buy why? Why is Quillette publishing corporate propaganda for one of the the richest men in the world? It’s just weird and completely unnecessary, that’s all.

    • mirrormere says

      You really don’t understand, do you? It’s not about supporting Bezos, it’s about supporting the Kevins of the world. What plans have you made to provide jobs for over half a million people around the world? Nil – all you want to do is destroy them.

      And Oliver’s sob stories are anecdotes as well, so no points there.

      • Kevin is not the real deal. He’s a writer running a story. How many very well read, articulate, widely published warehouse pickers do you know?

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ Nakatomi

      Goods are cheaper. If you want to pay to employ someone hire a gardener or a nanny. Otherwise, go out to restaurants with all the money you’ve saved from Amazon. Plus Amazon Prime is a loss leader- they lose money to enhance their reputation.

    • DiamondLil says

      NP: in case you missed it, another comment below pegs you to a T: An “armchair social justice blob [who] won’t be seen helping real people in need, but must devise their own backyard villains so they can make themselves believe they are the do gooders they think they are.”

      • Jesse says

        John, the site you linked to has this to say:

        “Reverse racism is controversial and disputed by some. It is certainly possible for minorities to be prejudiced against Whites, however some believe racism requires “systematic oppression which is built into the government, institutions and social structures. Without this factor of systematic oppression, there cannot be racism.” This article also talks at length about IQ differences between whites and blacks and while not definitively stating it, repeats over and over that genetics are a factor in racial IQ differences (hereditarianism, which is a pseudoscientific viewpoint).”

        That’s a hard pass from me on this wannabe media watchdog. If your “objective” source is a science-denying center-left rag that swallows the woke crowd’s wholesale redefinition of words, that says more about you than about quillette.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ John

        In another article, Jordan Peterson, And the New Chivalry they report favorably on Jordan Peterson who has made several anti-Feminist statements and has called for “enforced monogamy”, and “The people who hold that our culture is an oppressive patriarchy, they don’t want to admit that the current hierarchy might be predicated on competence.”

        John, this is all horseshit. There is no oppressive patriarchy and Jordan Peterson said that societies enforced monogamy, he didn’t advocate it. That’s journalists not bothering to fact check, or deliberately omitting them because they don’t like Jordan Peterson.

        The disparities between men and women at the top exist for two reasons. First, only 20% of women are sufficiently career-driven to opt for the ‘work to life balance’ that sacrifices life at the expense of work, required to match high-performing males. And second, although equality under the law was achieved earlier, cultural equality of opportunity didn’t happen until the 90’s and it takes 30 years plus to climb the corporate ladder to the top.

        A cynic would argue that feminists began their campaigns to seek more representations on senior boards at exactly the moment that they knew there would be a sufficiently significant number of women 5 to 10 years out from reaching the top. It was an easy and smart move, for the more ideologically-motivated feminists in the West to appear as though they still had something relevant to contribute to the culture of the West, instead of focusing on women’s rights in the developing world, as they should have done when they won the equality feminism argument years ago.

        • JA M says

          “A cynic would argue that feminists began their campaigns to seek more representations on senior boards at exactly the moment that they knew there would be a sufficiently significant number of women 5 to 10 years out from reaching the top. It was an easy and smart move, for the more ideologically-motivated feminists in the West to appear as though they still had something relevant to contribute to the culture of the West, instead of focusing on women’s rights in the developing world, as they should have done when they won the equality feminism argument years ago.”

          ^This. So much this it hurts.

          It seems to me that nearly every segment of the “modern” “true progressive” crowd operates in similar ways. Either “fighting for” something that is already inevitable and proclaiming “victory” when it happens, or else proclaiming something bad exists and that it is all because anyone who criticizes them is an evil oppressive overlord keeping people down (often accompanied by “true progressives” advocating policies which seem admirable, but in effect actually make the problem they are “confronting” even worse, which in turn allows them to promote their sky is falling because The Them are evil shtick even more).

          Either way, it is all about optics, messaging, and the “warm fuzzy” feels. Actual substance and consistently upholding any sort of foundational moral/ethical code seem to be anathema.

  11. Ted says

    Enjoyed your article, Mr. Mims. Agreed, that many critics of Amazon are criticizing the nature of the work itself.

    I enjoyed warehouse work immensely, back in the day, and I’d like to share with you that it was an honorable occupation that provided decently-paid lifelong livelihoods for a large number of people. My objection to Amazon isn’t that they employ workers at any particular wage or that warehouse work is often accompanied by physical discomfort, it’s that their business model relied on duplicity and mendacity to achieve the critical mass that destroyed the warehouses of yesteryear having diversity of ownership conducive to the maintenance of competition that provided opportunities to the common man.

    Speaking as a common man, I say “to hell with those that sneer at physical labor as something beneath human dignity.”

    To paraphrase a thoughtful man; “Be a warehouseman. Be a good one.”

    Keep your forklift down on all four wheels, Kevin.

    • bumble bee says

      Just like everything else the left spews, trying to make Amazon the US version of a sweatshop is laughable. What is even more laughable, or should I say very saddening, is that those who really do toil in sweatshops, never get the help or recognition because doing so is real work. These armchair social justice blobs won’t be seen helping real people in need, but must devise their own backyard villains so they can make themselves believe they are the do gooders they think they are.

      It is also their contempt at anyone who does manual labor as if that is something to be ashamed of rather than applaud the fact that anyone regardless can have a job that even pays their idea of a living wage. They would rather pay a basic income from the government to people than have them do manual labor. All this too from a guy whose job it is to read blather and lies behind a fake desk, get paid ridiculous amounts of money, all the while contributing ZERO to society. If anything, it’s these self righteous posers who need to be taken down countless pegs.

  12. Klaus C. says

    Interesting and well argued article, but this appears to be incorrect:

    “If I had to guess, I’d say that Amazon continues to employ lots of human beings because, by putting money into the pockets of working-class people, the company creates more customers.”

    If I had to guess, I’d say that Amazon just hasn’t got around to automating their facilities yet. It’s a huge infrastructure change that will take a long time to implement, but there are many news reports out there detailing the moves the company is currently making to introduce further (and eventually full) automation.

  13. Nicholas says

    You can always tell that the people most assured of the inevitability of automation, have never worked with automated systems and controls! Also, someone very high skilled has to be employed to run and maintain these systems, it can cause havoc if they’re fired so they can leverage that into excessive clout. Human employees rock!

    • ga gamba says

      Where automation is introduced it’s often done to handle hazardous materials and heavy lifting, exactly the dangerous and difficult things Amazon’s critics are complaining about humans performing. There’s no satisfying them.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ ga gamba

        Great comment as usual. The London dockyards went from employing 5,000 to 500, as a result of automation. One advantage is that shipping containers are far less likely to fall on peoples heads.

        • ga gamba says

          Containerised shipping revolutionised international trade, and the cost to both stevedores and merchant seamen was high. Yet, the longshoremen who survived the shake out and still working at the US port of Long Beach, almost all of whom are still unionised, earn high wages, often exceeding $100,000 per annum plus good benefits and even a paid holiday on their union’s founder’s birthday. Merchant seaman weren’t as lucky because not only did the containerised fleet require fewer seaman, those who were needed were hired from low-wage countries such as the Philippines – well over a quarter, 378,000, of the world’s mariners today are Filipinos, up from about 2,000 in the 1960s.

          A deal cut by union leaders half a century ago allowed workers to share in the gains from innovations in efficiency, such as modern shipping containers. Another key move: organizing all West Coast ports in the 1930s under a single contract, which prevents shipping companies from pitting workers at neighboring ports against one another. . . . Unlike factories, ports can’t be moved to low-wage countries. The jobs are “impervious to outsourcing,” said John Ahlquist, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has studied port unions worldwide.

          Yet, the same is kind of true of Amazon’s warehouses. The company invests a lot to build these massive warehouses, so it really can’t up and relocate easily, and certainly not to Bangladesh. It’s business model relies on one- or two-day delivery, which ought to be easy to disrupt by coordinated work stoppages. From what I see, Amazon’s workers haven’t organised, but they may not value that. Though I’m a conservative, I recognise that people have the right to assemble and bargain collectively, if they choose. My opposition to unions is of legislative protections that make their workplaces closed shops, i.e. only union members may work there. Just as workers have the right to assemble, workers also have the right to decline membership. It’s the union’s job to pitch its services in ways that workers value, but for too long many workers saw their union representatives doing little for the members’ fees they collect.

          Recently I was reading the United Autoworker (UAW) contracts it has with the big three US manufacturers, and the union reps are able to negotiate limits to automation and plant relocation. They even secure promises to assemble new models in certain plants – just about anything is negotiable. Of course, not all workers have the same bargaining positions, but often that’s due to asymmetries of in-demand skills, which themselves are usually in flux.

          Ultimately, I think unions and employers in the UK and US have a too adversarial relationship. They ought to look to Germany and Scandinavia for ways to create a more symbiotic, mutually dependent one of cooperation. Employers are able to secure productive and skilled workers who don’t disrupt production and workers secure decent wages, good work conditions, and benefits. Of course, the reasons for this adversarial relationship are complex and beyond the scope of this comment and my time. As it is, I’m a proponent of the employee stock-ownership plan (ESOP) corporate model, which transforms every employee to an employee-owner.

          • Geary Johansen says

            @ ga gamba

            Totally agree on the union thing. The Anglosphere has a ‘them versus us’ narrative that is toxic both in terms of productivity and worker rights and pay. The best formulation for a benign relationship, is one that gives workers a proportion of the wealth generated by high productivity. Even in instances where productivity is driven by capital expenditure, you want workers earning a small percentage of the gain, because this allows you to allocate your capital more efficiently- workers can direct highly-paid production engineers to capacity issues and the best cost-savings.

            I used to earn quite good bonuses from bright ideas schemes- until, in one instance, they put me in charge of it. I also think that many managers miss a trick, by appealing directly to self-interest, in terms of bonuses or productivity-related pay. The appeal should be to lessening the load and financial worries of your fellow employees. This allows workers to gain status and reputation by being productive members of the team, whilst simultaneously thinking well of themselves- you’re likely to feel less mercenary if the person standing next to you gets to take their spouse out for meal, through your hard work.

      • Andras Kovacs says

        There’s no satisfying them.

        Lots of women are like that.

      • Jackson Howard says

        Like filling chocolate boxes with praline ? Wiring delicate microchips ? Compiling and summarizing jurisprudence cases ?

        If you think robotics have stayed in the dangerous material and heavy stuff handling niche, you are seriously out of touch.

        So far bio-robots beat mechanical ones for warehouse work. That’s all there is to it. In both case it’s bellow the API work aka : low pay, low skill and low security, will be automatedif costs are favourable, the overseeer is a machine.

        That’s what we vote for when buying online. Good ? Bad ? I have no idea.

  14. Geary Johansen says

    Great article, by the way. There is also the issue of zero hours contracts in the UK. My aunt loves working zero hours for an estate agents, because it affords her more flexibility as well. If she doesn’t want to work Saturday morning, in addition to the two days a week she does, then she can simply decide not to do it. But to hear Jeremy Corbyn talk about it- all workers on zero hours need the right to work regular hours enshrined in law, even if they are forced by government to do so!

    • Mike Robinson says

      Ah yes, the anecdotal “I know one person who this would benefit” argument.

      • ShottySam says

        Seems pretty similar to the 50,000+ anonymous reviews on Glassdoor.

  15. James Lee Phillips says

    If anyone wants to watch the John Oliver expose on Amazon’s abuses, it’s available to rent or buy…

    … on Amazon. Huh. Seems like neither party is concerned enough to seriously question their association.

    • Barney Doran says

      According to Wikipedia John Oliver’s net worth is $10 million. Perhaps he should do an expose on overpaid, political ‘comedians.’ He could start with John Stewart, net worth $100 million.

  16. E. Olson says

    Good article – the author seems to be much more articulate than most “working” journalists these days.

    It would be very interesting to do some undercover investigation of John Oliver and his ilk of talking head “journalists”. I wonder how many have paid nannies, housekeepers, and gardeners “under-the-table” to avoid paying those crazy payroll taxes and mandatory health insurance premiums, perhaps even hiring illegals because they work cheaper and they can always be turned in to ICE if they start making “unreasonable” demands. I wonder how many have unpaid interns at work getting them coffee and picking up their dry cleaning?

    I wonder how many of the talking heads regularly order products from Amazon and subscribe to the Bezos Post? After all, why are they supporting businesses that support “slave” labor? I wonder how many have not purchased something from a locally owned business that provides decent wages and supports the community, because the same item was $2.00 cheaper online?

    I wonder how many purposely invest the savings from their massive salaries in shares of companies that offer lower profits because they pay higher wages, support diversity (i.e. hiring unqualified/unreliable people who check the right diversity boxes), and buy expensive renewable energy? If they own a restaurant or some other business directly, do they pay employees generous wages and benefits even when they can get all the help they need at lower wages and benefits (i.e. dozens of qualified applicants for every opening)?

    It would be very interesting to see how many live up to the “social justice” expectations they have of others they criticize.

  17. Simon says

    Hail to the new class divide : front-office muckrackers vs. the utopian, post-racial back-office.
    All warehouse-persons of the world, unite !

  18. Dominic Allaway says

    Another great Quilette article: well written and original. I compare it with the referenced Hired by James Bloodworth which, despite me having such sympathy for gig economy workers I changed career to become an employment law advisor, I found almost unreadable: the fashionable tone of despair drove me to distraction. (‘Oh the humanity! What about the children!?’ Yawn.)

    I don’t agree completely with the author: Amazon warehouses are not ‘fulfillment centres’ they’re – drum roll – workplaces. If ‘Orwellian’ means euphemistic language to disguise an unpleasant truth – an unpleasant truth which Kevin seems to say doesn’t exist anyway – then this is definitely Orwellian language.

    Amazon would do itself a big favour if it dropped the dumb codewords.

    The author also keeps his focus on the workplace; that’s his prerogative but let’s not forget Amazon is a tax dodger extradonaire – not good.

    However, it is refreshing to hear a working class voice talk about employment practises – too often such comments are made by upper middle class politicians (selected by their upper middle class peers in their parties) or their counterparts in gentrifred – & frankly fairly bloody useless – ‘unions’.

    D.

    • Us3r says

      Tax dodging by paying all applicable taxes required by law? Really?

  19. Steve says

    I sure miss those hilarious nights watching John Stuart and the Colbert Report. Colbert was comedy genius. His comedy made fun of everyone by pretending to be a blow hard conservative mocking liberals. John was nuanced enough in his comedy to mostly not sound too “holier than thow”. His main theme was exposing Fox News for their hipocracy and running stories that only advance their preset narrative.

    Sad to say that I can barely watch any of the old crew now. They have become what they used to parody.

    • bumble bee says

      I too watched those shows and had some great laughs. It was all in good fun pointing out the failings of others. It was comedy where people could laugh together but still be kind, loving, to each other. What has changed is the introduction of hate and rage. They no longer just make fun of people, it’s all about creating and maintaining the hatred. Those who still watch cannot see it, or are too caught up in the hatred to see it as hatred.

      The movie Undercover Brother is another prime example of how we have turned from laughing at racial stereotypes of both black and white cultures to show how ridiculous each can be to the polar opposite. Now that the hatred has gotten a foot hold in many people, that movie if done today would be denigrating the other through hatred and vengeance. It’s quite sad.

      • Kencathedrus says

        @bumble bee: it’s because comedy itself has become politically fraught and many comedians have succumbed to cowardice Poking fun at certain demographics can be viewed as a hate crime. Old white men are the only demographic that they are allowed to poke fun at. It’s not even humor anymore, but ‘snark’ which has been appropriated from gay culture.

    • Stephanie says

      I used to be a fan, too, but I was also a leftist at the time. Pointing out how Fox News is biased is less funny when you realise MSNBC and CNN are precisely as biased, just the other way. But at least late night comedians made jokes back then, now it seems like they just throw out insulting language at political opponents and people laugh because they agree, not because it’s funny.

  20. cthoms says

    Pretty good write up, I love the whole this place is a hellhole, they’re penalizing me for stupid minor shit, which means it will take longer for me to get a full time offer thing. There is one major error though. It is,in point of fact, impossible to have seen too many episodes of The Wire.

    • Chris says

      Yeah, The Wire was a great show and I actually live in Balto. So..

  21. This article, while making some interesting points and possibly providing needed balance to the discussion around Amazon’s HR practices, is nonetheless very flaky. Kevin Mims presents himself here, with great literary fluency, as an ordinary warehouse grunt working two menial jobs to make ends meet, and very happy with the conditions of his employment. And decries the “undercover” tactics of “tourist journalists” who report things differently. But he’s just doing the same thing as a freelance journalist with a different view. Worse, he’s actually pretending to be an unskilled worker at risk of losing his livelihood if Amazon automates its facilities. He might see that as a literary device. I see it as disingenuous.

    • X. Citoyen says

      Kevin Mims presents himself here, with great literary fluency, as an ordinary warehouse grunt working two menial jobs to make ends meet, and very happy with the conditions of his employment.

      Not that surprising. Where do you think all the poets work?

    • Ted says

      You interest me strangely, wonderingscot. How, precisely, did you arrive at the conclusion that he’s pretending to be other than he represents himself, and by what means have you determined that he considers himself unskilled?

      • It’s certainly possible that Amazon wrote this article and paid Quillette to run it, as part of a damage control campaign against recent bad press.

    • bumble bee says

      So unless you can only count on your toes, no one needs to do manual labor? So those who do manual labor are in your view unskilled slack jawed troglodytes unworthy of intelligence?

      There are more poets, philosophers, and decency in those who work with their hands than you will find in any other profession. Those who are willing to get their hands dirty to get what needs to be done regardless of what others may find demeaning or humiliating are the people who I hope never pass away. All the so called “higher professions” are the ones where one finds the worst of humanity in most cases. Greed, ladder climbing sycophants, pantywaists, liars, and self aggrandizing backwash is what you find. Those who aspire to be within those circles usually sell their integrity, their souls, to get ahead and be seen as superior.

      Mr Mims is working where he wants, likes his job, and that is a success story. He’d probably actually stop to help someone, while the so called “betters” wouldn’t even notice because they’d be on their phones and drive right by.

  22. TheSnark says

    It used to be that blue-collar work was respected by everyone. These days the educated elites sneer at all things blue-collar; at the workers, at the employers, even at the work itself.

    Working with their hands is beneath their dignity of the prestige college-degreed. Anyone providing jobs to the working class is, by definition, exploiting them (especially if they are providing lots of jobs). And the blue-collar workers themselves are to be pitied, but are obviously too crude to be accepted in a proper climate-controlled office.

  23. X. Citoyen says

    Great retort and thanks for writing. You probably don’t have the guile for it, but I’d like to see you turn the tables by going uncover at a newspaper for a few weeks. Having some narrative-feeding bullshit stories circulating on social media as more “proof” of the Other’s evil would make you king of the trolls. Sokal cubed, maybe.

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  32. Mec B. says

    I hope you keep up the writing Kevin! If the automation takes your job, you seem to have another calling write here!

  33. SAT2_Audra says

    Thank you Kevin, it was refreshing to see an article from a fellow Amazonian that tries to portray the truth about our working conditions. I did find John Oliver’s segment to be funny but largely inaccurate as well.It does amaze me that when I talk about my job at Amazon that people just do not want to believe that it can be any different than what they see in the media.

    I can’t possibly like working for Amazon and yet I make more than most of my male friends in traditional labor jobs and my hours are more consistent. I have vacation, paid time off and unpaid time off. Most general labor jobs in my area do not provide insurance or 401K options like Amazon. I work in a safe work place with a/c at a fulfillment center in San Marcos, Texas as a stower. I am a full time employee since September 2017 and a single mom of 2. Fortunately I only work this job and it does support me and my children. My job is to take items out of cases and totes and place them in pods, once placed they become available for sale online. A picker then takes them out of the pod, place them in totes and send them down the line to be packed and then shipped out to the consumer. I am on my feet 10 hours a day and I am not young healthy person. I do find that I am able to do my job easily. I work four 10 hour shifts, this gives me more time with my family.

    Yes, Amazon is looking to automate their systems more in the future, but what the mainstream media isn’t telling you is that Amazon is training more than 100,000 of their workers in the jobs to facilitate the automation, in other words training people to get the higher paying jobs in IT to take care of the robots replacing them in their previous physical job. Wow, what a concept!!! So instead of looking elsewhere for the people to do those jobs Amazon is going to train their own employees to do it. Amazon also offers opportunities to grow within the company. Most employers don’t offer management positions to people without degrees. Once you have been with Amazon for 2 years you are eligible to apply for a management position with no education required. I know several managers that have taken this route. They also offer career classes in high demand fields so that employees can advance their careers outside of Amazon. I have never seen another employer do that. I just hope that more people realize there are two sides to every story and start listening to our side as well. Thank you for putting this out there.

    • bumble bee says

      @SAT,

      Your last paragraph says it all. There was a time in America where one could do just that, begin at the bottom and work their way up. Where companies trained their employees and promoted from within. I have a cousin who worked for AT&T and started at the bottom and worked her way up to the point where she retired early, has a great pension, and did some consulting work for them after the fact. This business model has pretty much died out and starting at the bottom means you’ll stay at the bottom. Amazon is doing something right, and important for their employees, you never see that kind of company loyalty to employee. Then we have the polar opposite with those D-bags at Wells Fargo and similar companies.

  34. chrisbarclay6296 says

    The likes of Oliver and Bloodworth don’t know how spoilt they are. It’s time there was more respect for people who do physically arduous, dirty and dangerous jobs.

  35. Celina says

    I hope John Oliver reads this piece. Nicely done, it is so good to hear from someone like yourself who has the perspective you have. We need that so badly.

  36. bobloblaw says

    educated liberals like that sniveling worm Oliver know more than Amazon than youll ever know

  37. Andrew Miller says

    Good god. Amongst the worst lazily argues things Quilette have ever published. Apparently people should be grateful for any job, and absurd binaries between holding employers to account of working conditions vs the job disappearing to robots are winning arguments.
    Any of this could have been written about attempts to improve pay and conditions in the past 150 years. I’m supposed to pretend the argument is ‘original’ as opposed to a re-hash of the same anti union screeds that have been trotted out for generations.
    It’s hilarious watching people claim Oliver or Bloodworth are patronising working class people, as if this author speaks for all of them and those contributing btl aren’t all by and large over educated and middle class overjoyed to have found someone to allow them to pretend their world view isn’t merely the same old claim working people should just know their place and stop being uppity.

    • ShottySam says

      I could certainly see how John’s show could come off as elitist and condescending. Imagine you’re a blue-collar worker who may genuinely feel they’ve found a good career path at Amazon. Or maybe you’re a temporary gig worker supporting your family there. You think it’s satisfying work, but then you read a reporter’s take which is that you do menial work and are basically the equivalent of an unskilled sweatshop worker.

  38. Andrew Miller says

    There’s something almost comically Victorian about reading someone suggesting workers who feel bullied into going in when sick should just suck it up, whilst feeling grateful to their employers for being given a pancake breakfast.

  39. Stephanie says

    Nice article. It is unhinged when media personalities white knight the workers they typically disparage over work conditions they don’t understand, to score points against businesses they don’t like. Why should Amazon be a target of their scorn? Is the $15 minimum wage not Prog enough for them?

  40. John Oliver and the rest of the blue-collar tourists have never met a corporation they’ve liked. If these white-knights (h/t Stephanie) have the secret formula to running a successful corporation while giving even the low-skilled employees great pay and benefits, by all means, show us the model. Otherwise, how about you quit shitting on jobs that help people feed and clothe themselves and their families.

  41. temp_worker says

    I think most of the points you have made are reasonable. I’ve done temp work in many warehouses. Some can be sweatshops, where foremen are unreasonable. Most others are safe workplaces like you have described.
    .
    I do have a quibble about one statement you made:

    huge cargo bays that are almost always open to receive the back ends of incoming tractor trailer rigs. When these bays are open it is virtually impossible to control the temperature inside the warehouse artificially.

    Temperature control is trivial. OK not trivial, but technologically reasonable. One place I’ve worked is a meat trans-shipping storehouse. Slaughter houses send truck loads of boxes of pork, to be stored at -30F, later to be loaded on to shipping containers. There are federal meat inspectors in place to make sure the place is clean and kept at mandated constant temps. The loading dock MUST be kept at 28F, just below freezing year round. Simple enough to do. The truck loading bays have “roller” doors that are kept closed till the truck is backed into place at the bay. Around the bay door there is rubber “bumper” that (mostly) seals the back of the trailer to the bay. There are automatic idiot lights to show when a truck is in place so doors aren’t opened when no truck is in place. Temperature control is maintained with relatively little effort.
    .
    Working that place has it’s rough times. Loading a 40 foot shipping container with over a thousand 65 pound boxes in a couple of hours is a grind. Pick up that 65 pound box from a pallet, turn, carefully putting it in place in the container, label side out (if the label isn’t showing you have to unstack, turn the box around, restack! or else the receiving country will send the whole container back, unpaid!) placing those boxes from floor level to over your head at 5, 6 sometimes 7 feet high is hard work! You are sweating even at below freezing temps. Some of the “young bucks” are real animals, slamming those boxes into place at a grueling pace. Slam! Slam! Slam! like clockwork. A box hitting the pile from one side or the other, every couple of seconds like a metronome. We let them go crazy, and the rest of us swap off inside the container. We can also swap off to the dock, unwrapping or wrapping pallets in shrinkwrap plastic, slapping stickers on boxes, restacking pallets. The ironic part, is 90% of the full time workers are all Filipinos. Imagine, moving from a tropical country to work inside a freezing warehouse …

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  43. cmonk says

    Onetime Amazon worker, longtime warehouse worker, currently happily employed doing all the stuff that I hated doing at Amazon. Passed up three different promotions here because I’m happy doing it and want to stay PT to finish my degree. But the Oliver piece was not entirely accurate to my experience. What’s wrong with Amazon isn’t the work itself. It’s physically demanding, but so is what I do now. It’s a warehouse. So you aren’t going to understand by reading about having to walk a long way to break or what have you. (though the no time to pee thing is real).

    It’s the culture. It’s the way the individual instances compound to make a social environment. It’s that they’ll fire you if you forget to leave your cell phone outside twice. It’s that they review your performance four times a day, every single day. It’s that they change your supervisors three times a day so you don’t know anyone and everyone just runs out the policies they have to memorize. It’s that if someone sees you breaking a rule or bumping a rack and they report you, you’re fired. It’s that they set the rates to be unattainable (w/lift) or simply physically rough (on the ground) so that they can either fire you for breaking the rules or fire you for not making rate. It’s that the dropout rate the summer I worked there, for the thirty people I came in with, was more than half for six weeks, and all but two by the end of three months, an attrition rate higher than Army Basic Training. They tell you how replaceable you are during training, and at least one or two times thereafter. It’s that the building I worked in had IT’S OWN CLINIC in the building.

    Now, I’ve been in warehouses where people get hurt, but I’ve not before or after worked in a building so prone to injury that they thought it efficient to have a FULL-TIME NURSE on duty 24/7. The first day I was there someone died. They told us all she had a heart attack. The OSHA report a year publicly posted a year later said she was crushed by a lift. When I was there, it was six points to get fired, a day off was 2 points. So you got to have two days off in your first 90, and guess who got three bladder infections because he was trying to hold it in all day and was almost fired for the consequences of trying to do such a good job there? Luckily, the last one was only half a day and a 100 dollar trip to the clinic, so I finished in good standing and could’ve become permanent, they liked me.

    But as I say, I went elsewhere because I’m young and don’t have dependents, so impressing another warehouse and taking a bit of a financial risk was possible for me. Much steeper hill for those single moms and supporting dads I left there. Anyway, it’s not a sweatshop. It’s a bad company so consumed by the bottom line output of its policies that it doesn’t treat its employees as though they were actual human beings, and which is becoming so financially successful by doing so that it’s eliminating more and more of its competition, and stifling smaller, more well-rounded entrants to the market.

    Not only did I not go back, I also no longer do business with them. That’s not a boycott. I don’t hashtag it on personal media. But it is definitely a permanent personal decision. It’s not the hardest job I ever had, by far. But it is the worst job I ever had. Every summer I hold a personal holiday celebrating the fact that I no longer work there. I understand it’s a legit good job for their white-collar people. But man, don’t go in through the liability shield they call a temp agency – which is, of course, how most people start out. I had to laugh when they bumped it to 15 – and lowered the stock options – for their regular employees though. Classic Bezos. Can’t give up a dime.

    Amazon will replace every possible worker with a drone just as soon as it becomes financially viable to do so. That’s not evil. That’s being subject to its stock holders and doing what it is designed to do. It’s just that there are, for employees, better companies out there, that do more than that, and that may or may not get a chance in this second gilded age.

    • Photondancer says

      Thanks for the alternative point of view. Both the article and some of the comments are interesting. I wonder what is behind the discrepancy. How much autonomy does each warehouse have?

    • ShottySam says

      Thanks for writing this from personal experience cmonk.

  44. Jason Sise says

    “In the ’80s, I worked for a title insurance company that gave out a $500 bonus at the end of the year to any employee who hadn’t taken a sick day, and I earned that bonus five or six years in a row. ”
    I too love company policies that promote the spread of sicknesses for cash.
    wtf?

    • A Jayhawk Fan says

      I worked 21 years for a company. Was sick 6 days during those twenty-one years. Was 2 days two weeks after I started working there and 2 days six months before I was fired. I am lucky and am just never sick. My nephew had perfect school attendance for 12 years.

      The company that I worked for had very liberal sick day policy that some of my associates took advantage of. One woman took 45 days of sick leave one year without being fired or even being reprimanded. That is 2 months of time off in addition to her vacation and holiday time. I still find that impossible to believe today.

  45. Alizarin says

    Kevin, you’re a great writer and I hope to read more of you in Quillette.
    I’m wondering about the woman who used to Uber to work who you now drive. You said she lives less than a mile from work. Why didn’t she walk or ride a bike ?

    -Alizarin
    44 years old, and still rides my bike when my husband needs our shared car for work.

  46. Cedric says

    Damn good article. Thanks to the author for a very refreshing read.

    I worked warehouses for years before going to college. I can say it wasn’t fun work, but it wasn’t as bad as people might think if they’ve never done it (or if they’re just doing it so they can write a hit piece).

  47. NatDaHat says

    A current Amazon employee calling themselves ‘a freelance writer’ in their bio who gives their current employer a positive review is most unlikely not to have skin in the game. Even if only implicitly.

    My bad, I know, but I come to Quilette to get away from this kind of conspicuously partial, and journalistically tainted, gish-gallop, yet here we are, counting the dubious rhetorical flourishes by the under-handful. If you listen carefully, you can hear someone in the Amazon PR department getting their high five… sigh.

    I mean, could this person sound any more misanthropic? Or more like someone reading the script for Bezos’ porn flick? “Just about every job in my sortation center could probably be done by a robot. In fact, it amazes me that Amazon hasn’t simply automated the entire facility. After all, robots don’t call in sick, don’t steal from their employers, don’t sue for workman’s compensation, and they never complain about long hours or the heat or the cold. But nor do robots buy consumer goods. If I had to guess, I’d say that Amazon continues to employ lots of human beings because, by putting money into the pockets of working-class people, the company creates more customers.”

  48. AllyOfNons says

    I work for Amazon and people regularly suffer health-related episodes due to heat in the warehouse and the vehicles. I drive a van and the temperatures easily exceed triple digits, with the AC blasting. The AC in the vans simply can’t repel the heat absorbed over the 11-12 hours it takes to complete 190-250 stops.

  49. Robert says

    Kevin, you’re a writer in your bones. I hope you bring more of your writing into the world.

  50. The Hang Nail says

    Well done. Funny how we need an Amazon warehouse employee to tell us how poorly our journalistic practices are. But he nails it. Most of what passes as journalism these days is just a big system of confirmation bias. The whole DR tourism deaths was the perfect example. Big media did not want to do a baseline analysis because it would destroy their narrative and that narrative sells. Never mind that it took a big dent out of DR’s tourism economy.

    Likewise, while it is easy to find examples of exploited employees at any large company just a few minutes thinking about how to manage employees anywhere tells you that sometimes you gotta make choices that make them unhappy. That’s the nature of work. While I understand that the bosses and owners are not perfect – they have large issues – griping about having to walk a lot on a job seems petty. Unless you want to replace workers with robots what is the point? You can repeal the laws of physics. And do journalists who report that notice that they also have similar stories about scientists griping about people being too sedentary? I realize it would be nice to have a happy medium, but glaring contradictions like that should give pause to both narratives. We are too sedentary but our jobs are making us move too much. Huh?

  51. Kevin C says

    Facts are, most of the people critisizing Wharehouse, Manufacturing and general labor work have never had to do it for a living or, if they did, they failed at it (you know the type I’m talking about). They probably have never broken a sweat from labor in their entire lives.

    They’re also the ones not concerend about sending these jobs out of the country so they can save a dollar on a new toaster (that they’ll get to save on again when it breaks down in a year and they have to buy another new one). They just like to complain because, like Oliver, they know they themselves really don’t produce anything of actual value and so, they tell everyone else how bad everything is and how we should hate employers. People like Oliver are greedy, and they will do and say anything for money and “power”, so they dont actually have to WORK.

    It would be interesting to study the ratio of the economic value of an Amazon wharehouse and how many people it employs to say the same ratios for John Olivers show. I’d be willing to bet Olivers relative economic impact is a whole lot less than an Amazon wharehouse, even when adjusting for scale/size etc. I’d also guess that he takes alot more of the profit out of his business too. John Oliver’s pay -vs- a grip; Amazon Wharehouse Mgr salary -vs- dock hand. Which do you think has the bigger disparity??

  52. Dennis Hussey says

    Just a note that your writing style could get you work outside the sorting center, if you so chose to pursue those goals.

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  74. Mike Robinson says

    If you would open your mouth long enough to taste the boot stamping your face, you’d see that the leather has quite a delicious taste! And besides, it could be cleated, but it’s not!

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  80. Dennis Slater says

    I have toured our local Amazon warehouse and the author’s description, from what I could tell during the short time I was there, was accurate. The mammoth warehouse appeared to be clean and safe. All the employees I talked to during the tour seemed to like working there – decent pay, steady work, and tolerable working conditions. No one was forced to work there.

    The problem liberal ‘journalists’ like Oliver and many others have with Amazon and other large employers like Walmart, etc. is that they are not unionized. Union dues from all those employees would fill the coffers of the Democrat Party. These ‘journalists’ would never bad-mouth conditions at a unionized company.

    Large companies have to be responsive to workers or else they will have a hard time finding any and it opens the possibility of being unionized.

    Compare the quality of workers at Costco and Walmart for example. Costco employees get good wages and benefits while Walmart doesn’t pay as well and their benefits and work environment are sketchy. So Walmart gets employees who frankly just don’t GAS about customers or their job and quit at the drop of a hat and Costco gets employees who bend over backwards to help customers and work very hard and literally never leave. Walmart sees the light I believe and is changing.

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  82. Damian O'Connor says

    It’s The Guardian, mate. No-one expects anything but anti-capitalist fibs from that rag.

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