Mac McClelland Experiences Harrowing Ordeal As Employee Of Online Shipping Warehouse

Mother Jones reporter and official recipient of the Order Of The Eat The Press Empire knighthood Mac McClelland followed up on the visit she made last summer to the "Warehouse Of Soul-Crushing Sadness" by actually going to work at one of the many brutalist shipping warehouses from whence our online purchases come. There, she learned that in addition to doing back-breaking work at a nerve-needling pace while facing impossible-to-meet-by-design goals, she would have to endure being constantly told that she is bad at her job.

"DON'T TAKE ANYTHING that happens to you there personally," the woman at the local chamber of commerce says when I tell her that tomorrow I start working at Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc. She winks at me. I stare at her for a second.

"What?" I ask. "Why, is somebody going to be mean to me or something?"

She smiles. "Oh, yeah." This town somewhere west of the Mississippi is not big; everyone knows someone or is someone who's worked for Amalgamated. "But look at it from their perspective. They need you to work as fast as possible to push out as much as they can as fast as they can. So they're gonna give you goals, and then you know what? If you make those goals, they're gonna increase the goals. But they'll be yelling at you all the time. It's like the military. They have to break you down so they can turn you into what they want you to be. So they're going to tell you, 'You're not good enough, you're not good enough, you're not good enough,' to make you work harder. Don't say, 'This is the best I can do.' Say, 'I'll try,' even if you know you can't do it. Because if you say, 'This is the best I can do,' they'll let you go. They hire and fire constantly, every day. You'll see people dropping all around you. But don't take it personally and break down or start crying when they yell at you."

McClelland's report is the latest in a burgeoning collection of stories about the invisible men and women who act out this version of the Hunger Games in non-descript warehouse facilities all across the country. Following her earlier story on the matter, Spencer Soper of The Morning Call spoke to "20 current or former workers" from an Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, who "were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain."

And last December -- around the same time McClelland was enduring this work experience firsthand -- our own Dave Jamieson spoke to workers at similar facilities in Joliet, Ind. and Fontana, Calif. He found that this regime of "temporary work and lasting poverty" was expertly enabled by "an employment arrangement based on outsourcing and subcontracting" where the "corporation at the top indemnifies itself from any unpleasantness at the bottom, thanks to the smaller corporate players in the middle" -- like the temporary staffing agencies that actually run the warehouse show.

One thing that I would point out is that when we typically talk about "unemployment," we talk about it in terms of rates that remain staggeringly high: both the traditional "unemployment rate," and the U6 unemployment rate. The latter gauges the total dislocation of the labor force by including a measure of the unemployed, the underemployed, and the discouraged-from-seeking employment. As these numbers drop, we tend to talk about how we are seeing a "recovery." What we spend little time discussing are the types of jobs that are being added to the economy, and whether or not they are the sort that we'd really think of as a dignified form of employment, let alone those upon which people can build lives for their families.

And these jobs are being added, rest assured. Ground was broken on a new Amazon warehouse in Middletown, Delaware at the beginning of this month, and the retailer is aiming to open two more in New Jersey, where it hopes to reap the benefit of a sales tax holiday. The would-be Garden State facilities, the Associated Press reports, "could bring 1,500 full-time jobs to a state where unemployment has hovered around 9 percent." So the effect on the unemployment rate is already being measured.

As the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not currently have a "Dignity Index," those effects can not be quantified.

I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave [Mother Jones]

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