Supply Chain Council of European Union | Scceu.org
Warehousing

Investigation reveals cost of Amazon Prime for workers

Editor’s note: This story was produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization. Get their investigations emailed to you directly by signing up at revealnews.org/newsletter.

When Candice Dixon showed up for her first day of work at an Amazon warehouse in Eastvale, California, she stepped into a wonder of automation, efficiency and speed. Inside the sprawling four-story building in Southern California’s Inland Empire, hundreds of squat orange robots whizzed across the floor, carrying tall yellow racks.

As a stower, her job was to stand in a spot on the floor, like hundreds of others in that million-square-foot warehouse, and fill an unending parade of merchandise racks. Another worker, known as a “water spider,” would bring her boxes upon boxes of goods – jars of protein powder, inflatable unicorn pool floats, laptops, makeup, Himalayan sea salt, vibrators and plastic toy cars. She’d grab each item out of a box, scan it, lift it onto the rack and scan its new location. She’d use a stepladder to put things on the top of the rack. For heavy items – she remembers the cases of pet food in particular – she’d have to squat down to hoist them in, then pop back up to grab the next item. As soon as she’d filled a rack, she’d press a button and one robot would zip it away while another robot would bring a new one to fill.

The moment an Amazon customer clicked “place your order,” a robot would haul one of those racks to a picker, who would grab the right item for the order and send it on a series of long conveyors to a packer, who would stuff it in one of those familiar, smiling cardboard boxes.

The clock was always ticking on Amazon’s promised delivery time. Dixon had to scan a new item every 11 seconds to hit her quota, she said, and Amazon always knew when she didn’t.

Dixon’s scan rate – more than 300 items an hour, thousands of individual products a day – was being tracked constantly, the data flowing to managers in real time, then crunched by a proprietary software system called ADAPT. She knew, like the thousands of other workers there, that if she didn’t hit her target speed, she would be written up and, if she didn’t improve, she eventually would be fired.

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