Tuesday, August 26, 2014

[NJFAC] At Amazon.com "cheap" comes at a very hefty price, reports Hightower LowDown

It's time to pay attention to what Jeff Bezos and his online retail colossus are doing

Like Walmart, only with supercomputers and drones: At Amazon.com "cheap" comes at a very hefty price

....The warehouses are dehumanizing hives in which Bezos has produced his own Kafkaesque sequel to Modern Times.

Consider the job of "picker." In each warehouse, hundreds of them are simultaneously scrambling throughout a maze of shelves, grabbing products. This is hard, physically painful labor, for two reasons. First, pickers must speed-walk on concrete an average of a dozen miles a day, for an Amazon warehouse is shockingly big-- more than 16 football fields big, or eight city blocks--and pickers must constantly crisscross the expanse. Then, there are miles of seven-foot-high shelves running along the narrow aisles on each floor of the three-story buildings, requiring the swarm of pickers to stoop continuously. They are directed by handheld computers to each target. For example, "Electric Flour Sifters: Dallas sector, section yellow, row H34, bin 22, level D." Then they scan the pick and must put it on the right track of the seven miles of conveyor belts running through the facility, immediately after which they're dispatched by the computer to find the next product.

Secondly, the pace is hellish. The pickers' computers don't just dictate where they're to go next, but how many seconds Amazon's time-motion experts have calculated it should take them to get there. The scanners also record the time each worker actually takes--information that is fed directly into a central, all-knowing computer. The times of every picker are reviewed and scored by managers who have an unmerciful mandate to fire those exceeding their allotted seconds.
Likewise, the two 15-minute breaks awarded by the Amazonians include the mass of co-workers scampering a half mile or more to the break room, waiting in line to pass through the despised metal detector and another line if you need to pee. The fifteen-minute "break" is usually reduced to a harried hiatus of under seven minutes.


There's even a category of uniquely vulnerable Americans that Amazon goes after: "Workampers," they're called. These are modern day migrants who could've stepped right out of a Steinbeck novel or Woody Guthrie song. Unable to get stable jobs, they travel in RV campers, taking whatever temporary work they can get, then move on down the road. ....

The temp agencies that are, in essence, the hiring offshoots of Amazon, have long lines of hard-up applicants waiting for every job in its warehouses, so oppressive conditions and ruthless work requirements that constantly cause workers to quit, be fired, or pass out are no problem for Bezos. By paying just one notch above McDonald's, he draws tens of thousands of people willing to get in line for exploitation.

Amazon smells today's mass desperation, preys on it, and thrives on it. That is the "magic" behind its super-cheap prices and super-efficient delivery system.

....Phase two is to take advantage of recent advances in artificial intelligence and ultimately replace all floor workers with robots.


Yes, you can say there's no humanity in Amazon warehouse jobs anyway, so who cares? Well, those workampers and others who have nowhere else to go care. It's a barren and wretched social vision that posits abusive jobs or no jobs as our choice. Last November, Amazon placed 1,382 Kiva robots on the floors of three of its warehouses. In addition, Amazon/Kiva is developing automated fulfillment systems for such other retail giants as Gap, Staples, and Walgreens.

The future of work is not creeping up on us, it's sprinting past us.

National Jobs for All Coalition

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