This holiday season, more Americans are shopping from their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Until recently, I was one of the hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers who help bring you the holidays when you shop online.
Working at an Amazon fulfillment center, I took pride in my work behind the scenes to make shopping easier for you. But the reality is, we work hard and yet the holidays aren’t delivering for Amazon temp workers like me.
Last fall, Amazon announced a nationwide hiring spree of warehouse workers, promising decent wages and health benefits. The company fills many of its warehouse positions through temp and staffing agencies. That way, they don’t have to offer the same pay and benefits they offer to Amazon employees. As Amazon proudly tells its investors, “we utilize independent contractors and temporary personnel to supplement our workforce.”
I came on last November to work in package-receiving at an Amazon warehouse in Joliet, Illinois. But I was hired by Integrity Staffing Solutions, a temp agency that’s been one of Amazon’s partners since 1998. Integrity Staffing lists dozens of temp jobs on its website, claiming “these are no ordinary jobs. They can be the next rung up your ladder of career and personal success.” But that was hardly my experience as a temp worker at Amazon.
Working for the temp agency, I was treated differently than the people who did the same job, but worked directly for Amazon. I had no benefits, but they did. I made $12.50 an hour, but they made $13.00. And if I was late coming back from a break, I got in trouble, even if Amazon’s direct employees were walking right next to me.
It’s unfair that companies like Amazon can use these kinds of staffing arrangements to avoid responsibility for their workers. Although on paper I worked for a temp agency, who I really worked for was Amazon. After all, I was working at an Amazon warehouse, moving Amazon orders, and being supervised by Amazon employees, with key terms of employment largely determined by Amazon. That’s why I say Amazon was my real boss.
I have a family of six kids and a fiancée, so a lot of people are depending on me, and it was really hard to get by on such low pay, with no benefits.
When I was hired, I was promised a full-time job working directly for Amazon. Instead, I was laid off in June. The staffing company told me I’d hit a 1,500-hour limit the company set up. I’d have to come back in 90 days.
After I waited three months, the temp agency called me in and said I had to wait another 90 days before I could try again for a job with Amazon. When I finally got a call-back in October, I was told Amazon would now call me their employee. I gladly went back to work, but was laid off again after just a couple of months. This time, they told me my job was just a seasonal one.
This kind of treatment just isn’t fair to workers like me.
It used to be that if you were hired by a Fortune 500 company, you thought you had it made, and you’d be getting decent pay, benefits, and long-term employment if you worked hard. For many Amazon warehouse workers like me, it now means short-term, badly-paid work with no benefits, being laid off all the time, and having the company pretend it isn’t even your boss.
They call this “outsourcing” and say it makes their business more efficient. I call it squeezing the workers at the bottom of the chain. Hiding behind temp agencies and subcontractors, companies like Amazon cheat workers of fair pay, workplace benefits, and the right to negotiate over wages and working conditions with our real employer.
Amazon has really changed how people buy almost everything, especially at this time of year. But working for it isn’t any better than working for Walmart, especially for workers like me who the company insists aren’t its employees.
Workers like me are proud to help deliver the gifts you order directly to your doorstep. I hope during this holiday season, while you appreciate all the conveniences of online shopping, you can also think about the warehouse workers who bring the holidays to you and your families. All we are asking from Amazon is to be able to provide a holiday to our own families.