Bernie Sanders’ Debate With Amazon Probably Won’t Be Settled By A Warehouse Tour

“Work hard. Have fun. Make history.”

Posted on September 10, 2018, at 3:09 p.m. ET




Caroline O’Donovan / BuzzFeed News

Claims of which Amazon fulfillment center workers are underpaid in addition to also also overworked to the point of physical exhaustion are Once more dominating headlines. After Sen. Bernie Sanders highlighted claims of which many Amazon workers rely on food stamps to survive, he introduced a corporate tax hike bill called the BEZOS Act in Congress last week.

Amazon hit back by lambasting Sanders in a blog post for generating “inaccurate in addition to also also misleading accusations.” the item also encouraged Sanders to take a tour of one of its facilities. While Sanders hasn’t yet managed to fit a tour into his schedule, BuzzFeed News toured Amazon’s “PHX6” facility located in Phoenix last week.

Unsurprisingly, the tour was relatively sanitized — generating recordings or taking notes was prohibited, guests had to stick to a planned route, three tour guides minded the group at all times, in addition to also also no warehouse workers spoke with guests.

Despite the 92-degree heat outside, Amazon’s 1.2 million-square-foot facility in Phoenix is actually kept pleasantly cool by what tour guide Lisa Guinn described as a high-tech climate control system of which constantly monitors the building’s temperature. Eight miles of conveyor belts crisscross the enormous facility, some of them twirling by ceiling to floor in spiral chutes of which look like playground slides. Each belt carries a constant stream of yellow bins of which are either empty in addition to also also ready to be filled with products, or full in addition to also also headed to be packed into cardboard boxes. On walls, T-shirts, in addition to also also above the main entrance doors are the words “Work hard. Have fun. Make history.”

 Public tours are part of a completely new information war of which Amazon has commenced waging after years of reports of which characterize its working conditions as brutal in addition to also also grueling.

The Phoenix facility employs 2,500 people who spend their days unpacking arrivals by various suppliers, placing them on the appropriate shelves, picking items off shelves as needed, dropping them in bins, in addition to also also then repackaging them to be sent out to customers. A computer manages the process: Similar to how Uber routes drivers, an algorithm determines which items are closest to which worker, in addition to also also instructs of which worker to retrieve the item, scan the item, in addition to also also place the item in a yellow bin. Signs hanging among the fluorescently lit shelves, which resemble library stacks if the stacks went on so far of which you couldn’t see the opposite end, tell workers they have 10 minutes to pick up their first item when they start their shift. After of which, the algorithm determines their path, in addition to also also how much time they have to move through the item.

Tour attendees in Phoenix were mostly interested in a behind-the-scenes look at how the magic happens. Their questions tended to focus more on things like how much Amazon-branded tape the facility goes through than on what the item’s actually like to work there, which no one although me asked about the item.

Guinn’s answers about working conditions echoed what Amazon’s corporate team has said in blog posts. Through the Career Choice program, she said warehouse associates can receive free training, even for positions of which would certainly require quitting their jobs at Amazon. Employee safety is actually a top priority, in addition to also also Amazon uses the kaizen method to collect worker input on how to improve the company’s systems in addition to also also processes. In response to a question by BuzzFeed News, she said the Phoenix facility has three break rooms, in addition to also also employees have plenty of time to go to the bathroom.

These public tours are part of a completely new information war of which Amazon has commenced waging after years of reports of which characterize its working conditions as brutal in addition to also also grueling. While Amazon isn’t exactly winning of which war, the item has succeeded in establishing an alternate narrative. is actually working at Amazon a hellish, dangerous, physically grueling job with low wages to boot? Or is actually the item actually tough although rewarding work with generous benefits, plentiful job training, in addition to also also an opportunity to rise through the ranks of the the second most valuable company inside United States?

The answer, of course, depends on who you ask.

According to data collected by the completely new Food Economy, an investigative news nonprofit, one in three Amazon employees in Arizona is actually currently collecting SNAP benefits, or food stamps. in addition to also also while some workers appreciate the free meals on holidays, ice pops on hot days, in addition to also also Red Bull on long shifts, anonymous warehouse workers on Glassdoor in addition to also also Google have serious complaints.

“They will work your butt off,” wrote one Phoenix fulfillment center Google reviewer. “The bell goes off for break in addition to also also you have 15 minutes to run across the building sit down for 5 minutes in addition to also also run back to where you were.” Another employee made a similar claim, writing, “They don’t care about their employees. They won’t even let you sit down while working a ten hour shift.” Even one worker who described the job as “GREAT!” said the item left her with “definitely achy joints.”

On Glassdoor, associates in Phoenix described the job as fast-paced in addition to also also physically demanding, with short breaks in addition to also also low pay for grueling conditions. (Amazon said its committed to creating a “positive in addition to also also safe working environment” in addition to also also of which the item regularly asks workers “how we can make things even better.”)

“Standard pay for warehouse in This particular area is actually 15–16 (starting pay) we start at 12 in addition to also also max out at 15.50,” wrote one former employee on Glassdoor. “Isnt the CEO the richest man inside earth? Can’t he afford to start people off at a living wage for fulltime employees?”

Amazon has clumsily fought back against comments like these by paying some warehouse workers, called “ambassadors,” to share gushingly positive comments about their jobs on social media.

@GregComlish This particular is actually crazy!! Amazon does pays a living wage! I make enough to put bread on my table, child care, bills in addition to also also I still have extra money for eating out at lease twice a week. BTW not on food stamps.

@J_Bloodworth In over a year here, I have never, nor have I seen, anyone feel like they couldn’t use the restroom whenever they wanted. I can say with certainty, I have never seen a perfectly Great water bottle be abused in of which way here in Texas. Gross 🤢.

@upuzi_wacha Huh?! If by peeing on bottles you’re referring to THE THRONE (restroom), then yeah we still use them. (definitely frequently if you ask me)🤷‍♀️

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Amazon says its median pay rate is actually competitive with local retailers in Arizona. “We employ thousands of people in Arizona who chose part-time or seasonal roles. The figures [inside reports you mention] are therefore misleading because they include people who only worked for Amazon for a short period of time in addition to also also/or who chose to work part-time — both of these groups would certainly almost certainly qualify for assistance if Amazon was their only job during the year,” the company said in a written statement.

Stacey Mitchell, the co-director the Local Institute for Self-Reliance, which has investigated how Amazon fulfillment centers impact communities, told BuzzFeed News the discrepancy between conflicting claims about what the item’s like to work at Amazon can in part be explained by the large number of temporary in addition to also also contract workers, who don’t have access to benefits like health care or parental leave.


Ross D. Franklin / AP

The main hall showing part of the over 1 million-square-foot space at an Amazon.com Fulfillment Center on Cyber Monday, the busiest online shopping day of the holiday season, Dec. 2, 2013, in Phoenix.

“The thing of which stands out to me is actually of which This particular is actually a company of which includes a turnover of around 50% a year, in addition to also also of which’s for direct hires … The estimate of how many people are temporary employees is actually somewhere around 40%,” she said.

So while some of Amazon’s full time employees might feel compelled to defend Amazon, many of the temps in addition to also also contractors who cycle through Amazon’s fulfillment centers are outspoken about the grueling nature of the job.

“Unions are … coming to the conclusion of which they definitely can’t afford to ignore Amazon,” said John Logan, a labor studies professor at San Francisco State University. “Amazon is actually becoming such a significant player in so many different parts of the economy — inside grocery sector, in home delivery, in addition to also also commerce. I think inside future you will see more of a sustained effort, not just by unions, although with all of these some other different community organizations.”

As the labor movement continues to target Amazon, Logan says he expects company’s response inside public sphere to be swift in addition to also also aggressive. He said he knows of “several some other journalists or labor commentators who have published critical pieces on Amazon who have gotten either a very quick response by the company, or … [were] contacted by lawyers demanding a retraction.”

“[Amazon] introduces the subset of facts the item wants to highlight, although the item hasn’t definitely effectively answered the specific criticisms around abusive labor practices, the large number of employees who are enrolled in SNAP, or the effect the item has on wages inside sector as a whole.” 

although, Logan said of which if Amazon wants to make a convincing case of which the item’s a Great employer, the item has to address the specific claims against the item, rather than generating broad statements in addition to also also opaque statistics.

“The company introduces the subset of facts the item wants to highlight,” he said. “although the item hasn’t definitely effectively answered the specific criticisms around abusive labor practices, the large number of employees who are enrolled in SNAP, or the effect the item has on wages inside sector as a whole.”

Sanders’ office says he plans to visit an Amazon fulfillment center in Chester, Virginia later This particular month; according to his office, Amazon was unable to accommodate his request to visit a warehouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin earlier This particular summer.

“We are glad Senator Sanders has decided to visit one of our fulfillment centers in addition to also also see for himself –— something over 100 some other members of Congress have already done,” Amazon told BuzzFeed News in a written statement.

Amazon accuses Sanders of cherry-picking negative employee experiences of which hew to his political in addition to also also economic narrative. The company says the item’s “proud” to have created 130,000 completely new jobs inside last year, in addition to also also of which is actually a significant number. although in its flurry to prove of which those jobs aren’t as bad as some people say, Amazon is actually ignoring its critics’ larger point: A company worth $1 trillion could afford to pay workers more.

“On the one hand, Amazon has added a lot of jobs. although there’s a debate over whether or not Amazon jobs are actually Great jobs by the standards of of which sector,” said Logan. “I think This particular debate about the impact of Amazon … is actually not going to go away, in addition to also also is actually likely to intensify. We’ll hear a lot more critical voices inside future.”

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