The Life and Death of an Amazon Warehouse Temp – What the future of low-wage work really looks like.

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, [October 21, 2015]

…..When it comes to low-wage positions, companies like Amazon are now able to precisely calibrate the size of its workforce to meet consumer demand, week by week or even day by day. Amazon, for instance, says it has 90,000 full-time U.S. employees at its fulfillment and sorting centers—but it plans to bring on an estimated 100,000 seasonal workers to help handle this year’s peak. Many of these seasonal hires come through Integrity Staffing Solutions, a Delaware-based temp firm. The company’s website recently listed 22 corporate offices throughout the country, 15 of which were recruiting offices for Amazon fulfillment centers, including the one in Chester.

This system isn’t unique to Amazon—it pervades the U.S. retail supply chain. Many companies choose to outsource shipping work to so-called third-party logistics providers, which in turn contract the work to staffing companies. At some of Walmart’s critical logistics hubs, multiple temp agencies may be providing workers under the same roof. The temp model also extends far beyond retail. The housekeeper who cleans your room at a Hyatt hotel may not work for Hyatt, but for a temp firm you’ve never heard of, for less money and fewer benefits than a direct hire. “It’s the standard operating model,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “The entire service economy is based on this kind of hyper-flexibility. If you don’t have it, it sends costs way up.”
1 The workers argued they were owed money for the time it took to go through mandatory security screenings, which could be as long as 20 minutes, according to the lawsuit. The justices ruled unanimously in Integrity’s favor.

For employers, the appeal of this system is obvious. It allows companies to meet demand while keeping their permanent workforce at a minimum, along with all the costs that go with it—payroll taxes, benefits, workers’ compensation costs and certain legal liabilities. (When Amazon warehouse workers around the country claimed they were victims of wage theft in a Supreme Court case last year, Integrity, not Amazon, was named as the defendant.) For employees, though, it means showing up to work every day with the knowledge that you are always disposable. You are at least one entity removed from the company where you work, and you are only as good as your last recorded input in a computerized performance monitoring system. In the event that something goes wrong in your life—illness, injury, a family crisis—you have few, if any, protections. And yet for Americans like Jeff, this precarious existence now represents one of the only remaining potential paths to a middle-class life…..

….Di-Key told me that she doesn’t blame Amazon or Integrity for Jeff’s death. What bothers her most is how expendable her husband seemed to be inside the warehouse system. She believes that had he not died as a second-class temp worker, his family might have been in a better position to sustain the loss. “Just feeling like he wasn’t human, like he was just a piece of paper,” she said. “You know, [they] can dispose of you. It kind of hurt.”….