BuzzFeed News – January 13, 2017
by Caroline O’Donovan
President-elect Donald Trump was quick to take part of the credit for Amazon’s announcement this week that it will create 100,000 new jobs in the US in the next 18 months. …
“Many of these jobs will be low-paid, short-term, and have high turnover. Some will be temporary positions,” said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a research and advocacy group focused on stimulating local economies. “Those are not the kind of jobs we need in order to address the economic challenges that so many Americans are facing.” (In its press release, Amazon said all 100,000 new positions will be “full-time, full-benefit” jobs.)
Earlier this year, Mitchell — who literally wrote the book on the negative impacts big-box stores have on communities — co-authored a report on Amazon about the kinds of jobs it creates and the kinds of jobs it destroys. As the New York Times reported Friday, for every position Amazon fills, a greater number of traditional retail jobs are eliminated, undercutting the company’s job creation claims.
But even if the warehouse and delivery jobs Amazon generates are replacing retail jobs at brick-and-mortar shops and department stores, the quality of the jobs isn’t necessarily the same. And what Mitchell has to say about the working conditions for many Amazon workers does not sound good. (Mitchell’s insights on working conditions at Amazon comes from original interviews with warehouse workers and labor organizers, as well as extensive previous reportage from news outlets including Mother Jones, the Seattle Times, and The Morning Call.)
“Amazon’s warehouses are very finely tuned machines and the company organizes the human labor to be parts of the machine,” Mitchell said. “So the tasks are highly repetitive, and they are physically demanding. In warehouses that haven’t been automated yet, it involves running across warehouses that are multiple football fields in size to pick items.”
The report also describes the experience of employees who had to kneel on the ground hundreds of times a day, and a job posting that says employees must be able to lift up to 49 pounds in temperatures of up to 90 degrees. But Mitchell said, in researching Amazon, what struck her most was the psychological stress to which even Amazon’s lowest-paid workers were exposed.
“Amazon consistently sets the performance goals above what people can actually achieve,” Mitchell said. “You’re always racing and running and falling behind and, among other things, not only does it make you do more, but it makes you demoralized, and less likely to speak up or join with your fellow workers in speaking up about working conditions.”
On top of all that, Mitchell’s report also found that Amazon paid its warehouse workers less to do these unpleasant jobs than comparable employers paid theirs. Comparing Amazon hourly wages found on Glassdoor to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Mitchell found that in 11 markets where Amazon is currently active, Amazon wages were on average 15% lower than the prevailing wage for warehouse workers; in Atlanta it was 19% less, while in Phoenix it was 6% less.
Wages submitted to Glassdoor are anonymous and therefore difficult to fact-check, but Mitchell said the data, which she only pulled from markets with a significant volume of submissions, was corroborated by job postings and staffing agency listings.