Dayana Santos’s day went from bad to worse quickly. She was an employee at JFK8, a massive Amazon fulfilment centre in New York City. First, her bus was late. Then, her team was reassigned to a new part of the warehouse, so she searched all over looking for her new workstation. That afternoon, Ms Santos, formerly a top performer, learned that Amazon’s pervasive employee-tracking technology had registered she had spent too much time “off task.” She was being fired.
That’s just one of the many explosive details in a new investigation into JFK8 and Amazon’s broader labour practices from The New York Times.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the company, already one of the most valuable in the world, embarked on an unprecedented hiring spree, adding roughly 350,000 new workers as demand for online shopping shot up with people confined to their homes.
The employees had at least a $15-an-hour wage and good benefits, but all was not well inside the warehouses, according to the investigation.
The fast pace of work inside, where digital monitoring tools measure employee productivity to an intensive degree, as well as other factors caused huge turnover inside Amazon warehouses, with the company shedding 3 per cent of its hourly associates each week. That adds up to a massive turnover rate of 150 per cent a year, equivalent to replacing their entire workforce every eight months, according to the Times.
“Attrition is only one data point, which when used alone lacks important context,” Amazon said in a statement.
Other complications included a disability and leave system that frequently mistakenly fired people, as well as people of colour, the majority of Amazon’s workforce in JFK8 and many other warehouses, facing disproportionate discipline.
In 2019, more than 60 per cent of JFK8 workers were Black or Latino, and Black associates at the facility were nearly 50 per cent more likely to be fired than white employees. (Amazon said it could not confirm the data without knowing more specifics about the Times’s source.)
This company culture was a feature, not a bug, according to David Neikerk, a former Amazon human resources official who said the company and its leadership viewed employees being too comfortable as a “march to mediocrity.”