The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) recently released an in-depth report on Amazon, and this week, ILSR and Jobs With Justice partnered to produce a fact sheet that looks at how Amazon is undermining working people. This post highlights ILSR’s findings on how this fast-growing corporation is increasingly at the center of many alarming economic trends.
When an Amazon box lands on the doorstep in as little as an hour after it’s ordered, it can seem like magic. Behind that magic, though, lies a vast network of warehouses—often nondescript, windowless buildings on the outskirts of cities—where tens of thousands of people unload and sort goods, pick and pack orders, and prepare to deliver those boxes.
These women and men describe their jobs as exceptionally grueling. They report racing across warehouses that can sprawl the distance of more than a dozen football fields; frequent bending and squatting; and production quotas that are set impossibly high—by one measure 60 percent above the industry standard. “The worst part was getting on my hands and knees 250 to 300 times a day,” a man working as a picker in a Pennsylvania warehouse told the paper The Morning Call, adding that he was expected to pick 1,200 items in a 10-hour shift, and that frequently involved fishing items out of bins near the floor. “It’s actually impossible to meet the productivity standards and do so safely,” Beth Gutelius, a researcher who has studied Amazon, told us.
Despite these demands and risks, Amazon treats its employees as expendable. Roughly 40 percent of the people working in Amazon warehouses are temporary employees who lack job benefits and security. Though Amazon refers to these positions as “seasonal,” we found that it relies on temporary employees year-round and hires many of these workers through staffing agencies. By not hiring people directly, Amazon skirts liability for injuries and mistreatment they suffer on the job.
Amazon’s regular direct hires are scarcely better off. Average wages for warehouse work are already low, and Amazon pays its employees even less. We looked at Amazon’s wages in 11 metro areas and found that it pays an average of 15 percent less than the prevailing wage for comparable work. In Atlanta, for instance, where Amazon has three large facilities, Amazon’s wages are 19 percent lower than the prevailing warehouse wage, and 29 percent below the living wage for the region. Continue reading