How Amazon Automatically Tracks And Fires Warehouse Workers For ‘Productivity’

from The Verge

Amazon’s fulfillment centers are the engine of the company — massive warehouses where workers track, pack, sort, and shuffle each order before sending it on its way to the buyer’s door.

Critics say those fulfillment center workers face strenuous conditions: workers are pressed to “make rate,” with some packing hundreds of boxes per hour, and losing their job if they don’t move fast enough. “You’ve always got somebody right behind you who’s ready to take your job,” says Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and a prominent Amazon critic.

Documents obtained by The Verge show those productivity firings are far more common than outsiders realize. In a signed letter last year, an attorney representing Amazon said the company fired “hundreds” of employees at a single facility between August of 2017 and September 2018 for failing to meet productivity quotas. A spokesperson for the company said that, over that time, roughly 300 full-time associates were terminated for inefficiency.

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13 Responses to How Amazon Automatically Tracks And Fires Warehouse Workers For ‘Productivity’

  1. Cameron Lindley April 26, 2019 at 5:29 pm #

    It is hard to blame companies like Amazon for pushing maximum efficiency. At what cost does this level of efficiency operate at though? For people like Bezos, it is impossible to think about the implications on people’s lives this efficiency model has, and understandably so. That is just how business works at such a large scale. Although I do not know how exactly this productivity tracker works, I think it might be worth a gentle probe to ensure its fairness to employees. If the employees were truly slacking, then these firings are justified and there is nothing else to be done or said. Amazon did raise their average salaries fairly significantly, therefore the company might be operating within their limits. Generally, people who earn more money have to work harder, and that is why they make more money.
    I am sure that working in a fulfillment center is tedious and exhausting, as workers have reported 60 hour work weeks and routine ambulance calls, but that is why Amazon raised their pay-scale, to adjust for what they expect out of their employees. I do not personally think the rate at which the scale was raised justifies such strenuous work, partially because I strongly dislike manual labor and thus sympathize with the fulfillment workers, but at the same time, Amazon wants to turn the highest profit possible.
    I think a gentle probe would be a wise idea, as corporations are no stranger to unjust work conditions with inadequate pay. Solely from the workers side, this does seem rather unfair and the hours should be reduced, but there is no way to know just how reliable they are. The working force are also no strangers to exaggeration and complacency. Not that they haven’t been subject to unfair conditions before, and continue to be, there are just multiple perspectives that must be considered to make a decision in terms of who is at fault. Or it could be that no one is at fault, that is fairly unlikely though based on what has happened in this area previously.

  2. Devero McDougal II April 26, 2019 at 5:38 pm #

    Amazon has grown to be one of the worlds largest companies but with a company that large it requires a great number of employees for them to maintain productivity. Employees must track, pack, sort, and shuffle packages before delivering them to millions of buyer’s doors. Not only do the workers have to deal with strenuous working conditions they must also keep a very fast pace otherwise they might be fired and replaced with someone who can keep pace. After reading this article it did open my eyes a little bit more about amazon. I have friends who have worked for amazon in the past and they have told me that it is one of the hardest jobs that you can have. I have been told that you have to move fast while working in hard strenuous working conditions. I have also been told that there are people waiting to take your job if you are not meeting their standards. I feel this not a good thing asking people to keep a fast pace for a job like this that does not have the best working conditions is very unfortunate to hear. There should be a focus on having the working conditions for employees as comfortable as possible for each and every worker. Also, workers should not have to constantly fear that their jobs will be taken form them if they do not meet these unfair conditions. I think that amazon should look into making working conditions better because people will not be able to produce at an efficient level, they do not have safe and comfortable working conditions. They can also add more warehouses if productivity is the issue this way they can hire more people and deliver more goods quicker because now they have more people working. I feel that if amazon can make these changes they will be able to attract more people to work for them and they can grow their company even quicker compared to if they keep things the way they are now.

  3. Richard Gudino April 26, 2019 at 5:58 pm #

    I am a big proponent of automating job so that the workforce and our output is greater and ends up benefitting us and our GDP. If we can find a way to use all our resources to maximum efficiency than we have a growing economy an a better economy. So if technology can help improve our workforce I am all for it, lets go full steam ahead. That being said there are some jobs or task that cannot be left up to a machine. A machine being born out of code will only ever see us as code or just a number on another spreadsheet. Amazon as I have been learning isn’t the enterprise that many buy from everyday that is all good. I feel that a persons performance cannot simply be brought down to a just a number that when brought down means that they are to be fired and left without employment. Everyone has bad days we all understand that, we have all struggled to get up from bed and find the energy to make it to work. A machine should not be monitoring employees, it devalues the workers and creates a hostile environment on top of the already terrible working conditions reported from these centers. There needs to be a human being that monitors these people, someone they can interact with that makes the people working feel like they are being criticized fairly. A human can empathize with the other workers and understand that one bad day where they didn’t produce what they were supposed to is going to terminate their income. It is sickening to think that because there is a line of people waiting for a job opportunity that can replace anyone that does not perform. It again just devalues humans like they are only another replaceable cog in the amazon machine. Now granted with a human being there still exist bias and discrimination. In this regard a machine may be able to do better than a human worker, however as we have seen machines aren’t always free of bias or discrimination. There are still countless examples where a machine forms a sort of bias because the data that is being input into them is from corrupted data. The cynic in me is saying that it doesn’t matter if it’s a machine or man criticizing the work of the employees there will always be a problem, only with a man we have laws and regulations that can combat the racism or bias of another worker or employer. That isn’t the case with machines, we are yet to address the problems that all these machines cause for others.

  4. Rachel Leto April 26, 2019 at 7:26 pm #

    Today, it is hard to find a job. Amazon is making it near impossible to keep a full-time job there. They have been rapidly firing employees for not keeping up with their productivity standards. They are being monitored by robots to see how long they take breaks or go to the bathroom and if they take too long, they are given a warning and eventually could be fired if they do it too often. Their standards are nearly impossible to meet and maintain, they want them to be human robots and are ignoring the basic functions of humans that need to be met, like going to then bathroom when your body needs to go. Many employees have complained to Amazon about their requirements and how they do not even allow breaks for prayer.
    The fact that people are being fired for not meeting those requirements is a little ridiculous. It is not like they are purposefully doing no work and are expecting to get paid to do nothing, they just want to go to the bathroom. It seems more like a prison than it is a job. Constantly being monitored by these robots is like a guard watching you to make sure you stay in your cell. We were discussing in class how they are only keeping people in Amazon because robots do not have the precision to pick things up yet. Once that is perfected or can be, I fully believe that they will fire all of the actual people that they have left and make it completely robot run. I would be miserable knowing that I have to go to a job like that and have to be worried every day that I would get fired and have no source of income. There is no way that I would believe that an Amazon employee would be happy with their job and enjoy going to it.

  5. Jon Sozer April 26, 2019 at 7:50 pm #

    Over the past year, I’ve read a lot on different social medias and discussion platforms about the difficulty and stress related to working with Amazon and other delivery companies. I have a friend that works with UPS, and he was telling me about the strict hours – his work began at 3 am and went until noon, so he was more or less a vampire throughout the past summer – and the intensive labor. I’ve only read it to be more strict, more demanding, and more stressful working with Amazon. The problem with working for such a large company is that they are carefully monitoring their workforce in order to determine which lagging branch needs culling, which is well within their rights. The problem inherent in this is that the workforce that lags behind the greatest consists of humans. Obvious as it might sound, humans just cannot perform with the consistence and rigor of robots. Yes, creative capital might be important for Amazon, but the workers on the bottom of the corporate totem poll only contribute with intensive labor and stressful hours, all of which are completable – at greater efficiency – with the help of machinery. In the case that a worker starts to lag behind their colleagues, or begins to burn out, then Amazon has thousands of potential employees ready at a moment’s notice. The mentality of “I must do all of my work with no breaks, no hesitation, and no moment to catch a breath” within the workers leads to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, and can definitely lead to serious consequences. Such an environment is toxic to people, but individuals in positions of necessity do what they must to provide for themselves and their family, leading to the absolute superior position Amazon is in with this situation, and overall constitutes a losing battle for the laborer.

  6. Tyler Graham April 26, 2019 at 7:52 pm #

    Retailers such as Amazon obviously have an interest in maximizing profit. Underpaying and overworking employees, as well as the recent trial of drones for delivery are all in an effort to reduce costs anywhere possible. We can’t blame them for wanting as much profit as possible – they’re a business, and that’s what business is for. But at the same time, Amazon did raise their warehouse wages to $15 – a much needed change. Amazon warehouse workers are no strangers to awful conditions. Workers have reported passing out, heat strokes, holding in urine for unreasonable amounts of time, and other workers being carried out with stretchers. They’re the American sweatshops. Now news comes out that they regularly fire employees for lack of productivity/efficiency. Moreso this is done automatically, so there is a way of tracking it. I’m unsure of how they would track something like that, and I question whether “productive” is based on the average productivity or a set number. This is something that should be looked into. There is absolutely nothing wrong with firing employees for a lack of productivity, but there could be discriminatory reasons beneath them. A warehouse manager with a hatred towards those of other colors could easily then fire someone for “not being productive” when in reality that is not the reason. As much as I personally disagree with a system like this in place – it is perfectly acceptable for Amazon to implement it, so long as there is a probe launched to ensure it is effective and true in its use.

  7. Doran Abdi April 26, 2019 at 7:55 pm #

    For me, this seems to be the history of the work world. Employers, through the use of technology, are now being able to monitor their employees better than they every have been able to. In this case, Amazon has found a way to ensure that their base-level employees in the warehouses are performing at a rate that is entirely efficient and effective. Amazon is one of the largest companies in the world and is expanding and growing at an exceptional rate. For them to not create an initiative or a strong, solid stance on ensuring that the employees that cannot be constantly observed and babysat would be a terrible move for the efficiency of their company. From an entirely business standpoint, this seems smart and innovative from Amazon, but from a humanitarian and benevolent view, this seems to be a very demoralizing and quite disheartening move from Amazon. While it will be able to ensure that Amazon’s employees are functioning at a perfect rate especially through the uses of new technology, it can incredibly hurt the average worker who is usually the one who is working in these Amazon warehouses. Depression, anxiety, and mental illnesses have already been higher and higher because of the introduction of smartphones and technology into teenagers and growing youth. With this new technique and technology being introduced by Amazon, I find that it will only cause more pressure and anxiety onto their workers. It is in human nature to make mistakes and not be completely perfect; these strict guidelines set by Amazon can be looked at as being harsh and unreasonable based on the nature of humans. I think Amazon should be able to recognize that the modern job world is more competitive and harsh than it has ever been, and to create an environment that could be more hostile and intensive could change the job world completely. With that being said, I can still understand why Amazon would do a move like this as it allows for their company to become as efficient as possible and make as much money as they possibly can (which is all that matters for these corporations at the end of the day).

  8. Edward Holzel April 26, 2019 at 8:41 pm #

    I totally understand companies trying to maximize profit by using robots. The American society, during the span of my life, has seen people as a cost rather than a benefit. Amazon is removing perfectly good works that work hard and do everything humanly possible. However, Amazon is still firing them because their productivity does not offset its cost. Where is some form of compassion and understanding? These people fired are not highly skilled and are going to struggle to find another job. This does not only just apply to Amazon; other all corporations nowadays are trying to get away with the least amount of people possible.
    It is ridiculous how much money has power over people. Yes, you can make more money by firing half the workers and replacing them with robots. What good does that do for America and the world? Congratulations, you just took the wages that supported countless families away just to save the company a quick buck. People in America need to understand that people are people. The CEO of a company may never even meet 90% of his company, but he makes decisions that influence those people and their families. People are numbers to the CEO. Big businesses take away the comradery that small companies have. Big businesses are only worried about that bottom line. Companies are buying and merging with the competition just to ensure the top make their buck. All the people at the bottom of the food chain get fired in those situations and are often without jobs for a while. Where is the security for the little guy? Trump has shown favor to big businesses already. The little guys are getting fired and are struggling to find jobs in a market that is trying to replace them with machines and minimizing their job market.

  9. Divyaa Sarin April 27, 2019 at 7:38 pm #

    After reading this article, it comes with no surprise that Amazon fires workers for not being productive enough. The idea of timing workers based on their productivity seems quite stressful to the worker. However, to the employer, this is the only way to see if the workers are using every minute towards benefitting the company. The idea that everyone’s replaceable is true for huge Fortune 500 companies, like Amazon. If an employee doesn’t do their job, the company will quickly replace them. Thousands of people would love to work for Amazon since it is one of the leading successful companies today. However, after working at Amazon, employees have mentioned there are “strenuous conditions.” Sometimes workers are just not fit for the high demanding working conditions.

    Personally, I would never want to work at Amazon due to these outrageous working conditions. The idea of getting timed every second puts a lot of anxiety and pressure on the individual. It is like someone is always watching them. In a way, employees must have signed contracts allowing Amazon to watch over them while they were at work. This means employees already knew that they were coming into a job that was so demanding. In a way, I don’t think they can complain, since they knew what would occur. However, personally, after reading these experiences, I wouldn’t want to be in a work environment like this!

    Since Amazon is extremely successful despite these working conditions, other companies must look up to them. There may be a possibility that other companies may mimic Amazon, especially their harsh working conditions on employee’s, in order to become successful. This would be a nightmare! If every company were to mimic Amazon, no one would want to work! Unemployment would increase. Therefore, I think that it is safe that Amazon continues their working conditions because the seem to be going well for them. The employees know what they are getting into, so they shouldn’t complain. Lastly, companies should not mimic Amazon!

  10. Abdulrafay Amir April 30, 2019 at 7:46 pm #

    With automation becoming more and more prominent in our society today, it is no surprise that companies are pushing for maximum efficiency in their attempts to gain more revenue and reduce any unnecessary costs. The situation with Amazon is very tricky to handle because while it is true that they are entitled to trying to make their company more efficient and reduce labor costs, the lives of all these employees are definitely at stake while working these jobs. With Amazon beginning to track the productivity of their workers, the tension within the employees is beginning to become a problem. The reason I say this is because Amazon is using Artificial Intelligence that monitors every second that an Amazon employee takes to do their job during their shifts. Any slip up, or breaks taken by the employee and it will be monitored and recorded by the AI. This raises many red flags as we are leaving it up to an AI to keep track of the actions of an employee and it means taking out the real-life situations that can lead to circumstances where it looks like the employee is “slacking off”. This system in my opinion does not do the proper job in interpreting the efficiency of an employee or determine valuable qualities that someone can bring to a job position within their company. I believe that Amazon’s obsession with “perfection” or “excellence” will eventually lead to their downfall.

  11. Peter Honczaryk May 3, 2019 at 10:23 am #

    It did not surprise me one bit that amazon does this to their employees. I have worked at a warehouse for almost two years now in every condition: hot, cold, and mild. The only thing they care about is the productivity of its employees. The first warehouse I worked at was at UPS where they only paid 10 dollars. Some people might say that is great since it is two dollars above the minimum wage but if you actually go there and realize the immense work load, the pressure you get from your managers to move faster, and the way they expect the best people they have like me to push ourselves to be even faster so that we can help the ones who are slower is crazy. I already put in a great amount of effort to what i was doing and it was never enough. I would put in 100%, someone else only puts in 70%, the managers expect me to be able to handle that extra 30% the other person is not doing. So I told them to shove it and moved to FedEx where they pay more money for doing the exact same job. I’m still one of their best workers there to this day and like at UPS they also expect me to take more of a work load because others cant handle it. This always angers me since its not like I will get paid more for doing more. I can do more work, someone else does less, and we both get paid the same. There is nothing fair about that. There have been people that the company has gotten rid of now because of their inefficiency and productivity. They have a strict three strikes where after three strikes, you get fired. The only way to get rid of a strike is by working a straight 3 months without a single warning. Overall it makes sense to me that amazon fires the amount of people they do. They pay even more than FedEx does and they expect people to work for it all the same and everyone has to pull their weight and more. The “numbers” meaning the amount of packages dealt that day is the only thing the company cares about. They hire and fire as fast we have to go through the packages.

  12. Raymond Wilkinson IV May 3, 2019 at 7:24 pm #

    Amazon is one of largest companies and still growing. Amazon has now 288 million square feet of warehouses, offices, retail stores, and data centers. With this sheer amount of space under their control it would be hard for them to control efficiency of all of their workers. Amazon currently employs 575,000 employees around the world. Amazon sells everything from books, to music, to clothes, to household supplies, to flooring. Bezos’ new system of maintaining efficiency in the work place has recently come under fire. Amazon has instituted a system to automatically track and fire workers for productivity. I personally see nothing wrong with this. The conditions may be a little harsh but the idea behind this system makes sense. There is no possible way for Amazons founder Jeff Bezos to maintain and monitor productivity in all of his warehouses, stores, and offices. This new system allows him to be everywhere at all time without doing anything. At the end of the day Amazon is one of the most successful business in the world and they must maintain a specific productivity rate to stay at such a successful stance. Amazon could always replace these workers with robots (they are probably in the process of it) but they provide these jobs to people and give people a chance to make money. Amazon has also raised it pay for all employees, now I’m not saying this makes the strenuous working conditions okay. But people have to understand Amazon requires this amount of efficiency being that it is the business that it is. If they can’t handle this stress and work they simply shouldn’t work for amazon.

  13. Kevin Metz May 3, 2019 at 8:12 pm #

    Amazon is one of the most successful companies of this generation, staring from only selling books on the internet, it has grown tremendously into the well known “whatever you need” corporation. This article discusses how Amazon fires an abundance of employees due to their productivity in their warehouses. A well-known amazon critic Stacy Mitchell describes these terminations in a very negative manner throughout this writing. She says that amazon is essentially heartless and treats their employees as robots fighting for a spot since, “You’ve always got somebody right behind you who’s ready to take your job.” This is taken way to negatively and is not giving Amazon the credit they deserve. What is the big deal with having people in this world have to actually work to gain their pay? This quote is just showing that Amazon is so popular that their will always be someone wanting to work for them and ready to be hired if they terminate an unproductive employee. To me, this is not an issue, but a great success for Amazon. Let us look at even the bigger picture, wages should not just be handed out because you show up. Take Professor Jack Shannon’s business law class for example. Sure you can show up to class and play the part, but if you aren’t ready to work hard and actually prove you want to be there, you will fail and that’s that. He does not set you up for failure because it is a challenging class, he shows you that you actually have to work for things in this world and not everything can be handed to you like a participation trophy. Amazon has this same mindset when terminating employees for a lack of productivity. They were hired to advance the companies profit and that is that harsh truth. If they made their quotas and put the required time and effort in, they won’t be fired, but if they wont work for what they are paid to due, then they will be replaced, and I believe every business should work this way as well.

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