“It’s Not Just About the Job.” Between Humanity and Productivity in the Workplace

“I am who I am.”
–Broderick Love

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“I am, at best, a tier one associate of Amazon, still at this point. Initially, when I started there three years ago, I was just a temp. I thought I was an actual Amazon employee, but when you first come in the door, if you’re not in management, you’re just a regular temp. You’re on schedule, you’re an employee of the company, you have a position, but you don’t have any benefits. You’re there, but only as a temp, meaning that they can get rid of you at any point at their discretion.

“When I first applied here, I already had preconceived notions in my mind because of all the rumors that surround Amazon. I heard, most likely from social media and the news, about employees having hardships to bear outside of work as well as coming into work and having to deal with the anxiety of work and everything that is expected of you on the clock.”

His shift is from 1:05 a.m. to 11:35 a.m.

You want me to be satisfied with peanuts while you’re eating and living fabulously, and we’re struggling down here to survive?

My interview for this job was very, very vague. There was the drug test and there was no personal conversation, it was done in a mass setting, like it was a group of about 20. It was just like: “This is what’s going on; this is what’s expected of you; this is what you’ll be paid; this is when you start to get benefits.” And that was it. “Any questions?”

I was originally assigned to stow, which is basically after a package has been inducted and labeled, I was the person that scanned it to its designated stow location.

Did you find that the rumors you had heard about the job were validated or contradicted?
Oh, it’s all in the person. I’ve worked in overwhelming industries, so my stress tolerance level might be higher than someone else’s. I worked at O’Hare airport way before I worked at Amazon. I used to push aircrafts off the gate. I towed them from the gate to the hardstand. I did this in all seasons of weather. And my superiors were always complaining at me, expecting more. So when it came to Amazon, I felt like my [threshold] was higher as far as how I could tolerate a lot more. So like, if a conveyor belt breaks down, oh my god, managers start losing it. If engineers can’t give them an actual, factual time of when it will be repaired, it’s like, “Agh! Okay, I gotta call my superiors and tell them what’s going on.” But me in that situation, I feel for the manager, but at the same time, it’s not human error. That’s mechanical error. I’m not going to stress out over that.

Why do you think they get so stressed about that?
I guess it’s a lot of money involved. We’re expected to kick out 60,000 packages for delivery in the morning. And it’s a real problem when there’s a mechanical issue or my truck is late. That means that now you have to take people, potentially associates or managers, away from their other job duties that were already on the schedule for the day, to now get this other work inducted and ready to be delivered. So that slows down the operation drastically. Because now it’s not as many people out on the floor to build routes as fast as we were in the beginning of the day. Now they have to pay more drivers that weren’t expected for deliveries that day to then deliver those late packages.

This year, we’ve got a lot of mandatory overtime. So when you’re getting off work on your Friday, or whatever day of the week it might be, you go home, and you’re getting ready to lay down and plan your weekend, and you get a notification like, “Hey, forget your plans, we need you to come to work.” And that’s the bottom line. And that’s usually dictated by customers, in my opinion.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, if you want to climb the ladder, you’re not gonna have to kill somebody, but you’re gonna have to do some unfavorable things in the workplace. You’re gonna have to be buddy-buddy with somebody that you ordinarily wouldn’t be buddy-buddy with. I feel like this: I’m going to be myself in the workplace and outside the workplace. I’m not going to change my character for anybody. You know, I am who I am.

A bad day for me is basically when they don’t recognize you as a person. They just say, “Hey, do this, do that, stop doing that, go over here, do this.” And it’s like they bounce you around all day. And no one stops to say, “Hey, I’m sorry. I know I’ve been yanking your chain and having you do different jobs.” Nobody takes the time to say that at the end of day. They half-heartedly say, (speaks rotely) “Thank you. Appreciate your hard work today.” It’s like, okay.

Do you think they may have been told to say that at the end of the day?
Exactly. Yeah, that’s how it comes across to me. You know, I believe everybody gets a little complacent.

What’s a good day for you?
Where everybody’s laughing. We’re at a stow, whatever, laughing at each other and everything, you know, it’s a good time. We’re working hard. We’re still getting the job done. You know, management might not like how we do things sometimes. But you know, we get it done. So, and then everybody’s happy. It’s good to me when the management and associates can have a good day together.

We all feel like we could be paid a lot more than what we’ve been paid. They’re making so much money, but the little guy….They actually had to negotiate to give drivers back their tips that Amazon took away from them for a while. I believe there was an option on the app for you to tip your delivery person. And those tips went to the employee. Well, Amazon took those tips for a while. It was a shock to me when I found out. It sounds like a lot of something went on, but they gave those tips back. Like somebody sued them.

How does that make you feel as a tier one worker?
Initially, I’m frustrated. I mean, I’m like any other person: that’s just disgusting. You want me to be satisfied with peanuts while you’re eating and living fabulously, and we’re struggling down here to survive? When you think of what they’re raking in, and then they send this guy to space.

I’m not looking to make anybody my best friend at work, but I want people to understand, it’s not just about the job.

But in this capitalist society, I’m not surprised. I take it with a grain of salt, you know?

What do you wish Jeff Bezos knew about what you do?
To care more about his employees. Not just putting policies and people in place to keep an appearance of concern, but where your employees actually do things for their care. Not just wellness checks, but people you can call and talk to, who will say, “Are you physically healthy?” Give us something we can enjoy and speak about [when we talk about] coming to work, besides an occasional catered meal or salad party, thank you. I don’t know. It feels a lot like gesture.

It doesn’t feel authentic?
No, no, it’s not authentic; it’s not genuine. We as a company, we don’t…there’s no humanity. You know, it’s like, just the necessary concern. You know, nobody really cares. I’m not looking to make anybody my best friend at work, but I want people to understand, it’s not just about the job. And a lot of times management will make it seem like it’s just about a job.

What would you change if you were in charge?
I would probably make it more important that management becomes familiar with their staff and associates. Rarely do they ever really find out what their employees are into. Some will come and ask you, “What do you like doing when you’re at work?” You know, others won’t even ask you that, they’ll just ask how long we’ve been there, and some very vague questions. That’s just very not personal, and it’s always something work related. And it’s not like, “Hey, are you a parent? Do you have a grandmother that you’re taking care of? How’s your personal life, if you don’t mind talking about it?”

You know, maybe they just need somebody to care for a moment.

Do you feel like it’s risky for you to talk about Amazon like this with me?
I was concerned about that initially when you asked me to do this, but at the same time, I quickly threw those worries out the window. I feel like I understand company policy and protecting the way Amazon does its thing, but I don’t think anything that we’re talking about is dangerous to my job.

But if this should happen to reach Bezos and it makes a dent in his understanding, I’d be proud if it cost me my job. Hey, at least it mattered somewhere.


Reprinted with permission from Working in the 21st Century: An Oral History of American Work in a Time of Social and Economic Transformation by Mark Larson. Copyright © 2024. Available from Agate Publishing.

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