The Amazon Diaries

Warehouse Worker: “I Don’t Have Energy to Do Much Else Aside From Amazon.”

’I am totally in favor of the automation in the warehouses.’

Brendan O'Connor
OneZero
Published in
8 min readMar 11, 2019

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Illustration: Glenn Harvey

Valued at nearly $1 trillion, Amazon is one of the most powerful companies in the world. The Seattle-based retail giant employs more than 600,000 people and operates 100 sortation and fulfillment centers in North America, sometimes sending out as many as 1 million items per day to customers. But Amazon does more than just retail. Amazon publishes its own books and comics, finances TV shows and movies, operates a Texas wind farm, builds robots, streams music, delivers prescription medications, and operates web services for everyone from Medium to the CIA. And that’s not even counting its high-profile acquisitions, which include Twitch, IMDb, Zappos, and Whole Foods, among countless others.

Nearly all of us use Amazon in one way or another. But what is it like working inside the beast? Over the next few weeks, we’ll be talking to workers at every level of the Amazon empire to find out.

Welcome to the Amazon Diaries.

AAmazon’s warehouses are the backbones of its retail operation, the real-life nodes between the billions of items sold on its digital marketplace and millions of customers. Altogether, Amazon operates 386 logistics facilities domestically and 847 globally, covering nearly 213 million square feet of distribution infrastructure. The majority of Amazon employees work here, either full-time or on contracted gigs. Turnover rates at these facilities are very high — the company announced it would hire 100,000 seasonal workers for this past holiday season alone.

Though Amazon raised minimum hourly warehouse wages to $15 last year, firsthand reports indicate that work in these warehouses can be grim. Workers’ time is so closely managed that some avoid taking bathroom breaks, reportedly sometimes even peeing in bottles. Temperatures inside facilities range from blisteringly hot to freezing cold. Fifty-four workers were exposed to bear repellent when a malfunctioning robot punctured a container at a warehouse in New Jersey, hospitalizing 24 people and leaving one in critical condition. According to a workplace safety report released last year by…

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