My attempts to be civil with my friends and coworkers who use the blood-sucking, skull-fucking, Juggernaut of books just suffered another setback. Spencer Soper of The Morning Call (possible thriving local newspaper) muckraked around at the local Lehigh Valley Amazon.com warehouse and produced this long, well researched piece about terrible work conditions (dangerously high temperatures in the warehouse, mainly) and Amazon’s exploitation of a quickly turning over temporary work force.
Choire Sicha at The Awl excerpted a few of the best (worst) bits and while I appreciate Sicha’s picks, my personal disgust reached the highest level as Soper reached the culmination of a slow burning examination of how Amazon sets up their employees to fail:
[An unnamed male employee in his 50s] got mixed messages from ISS managers, he said. He received gift cards and won a laptop as rewards for being a good worker. But he also got written up for not working fast enough. He started the temporary position with about 100 others. When he was terminated seven months later, he was one of five remaining. Three of the temporary workers with whom he started got converted to permanent Amazon positions, he said.
“I don’t want to say anything bad, but they almost set you up to fail,” he said. “They always stressed safety and drinking water, but I always thought the rate [we are expected to work] is not safe.”
Here’s the link to The Morning Call again, in case you missed it above and now you’re angry enough to click.
Up until now, most of Amazon’s bad press came from people inside the publishing industry, people who dealt with Amazon as a corporation rather than people who dealt with it as a store. Amazon is very, very good to their customers and even if the customers were aware of Amazon’s shady business practices, the victims seemed like entities (governments unable to collect taxes, bookstore chains going out of business, publishing houses getting strong armed) not like people. Now, Amazon is hurting individual humans, who probably resemble the humans that buy from Amazon. For the first time, Amazon could be seen as hurting their own customers. This perception of Amazon as an aggressor against people not just companies might not catch on – I hope it does, but that hope is dim. I won’t be able to say this better than Mac McClelland did in her brief piece for Mother Jones:
In the meantime, every one of Amazon’s millions of customers should write them a really angry letter demanding change. Except we won’t. Because then our shipping wouldn’t be free.
Amazon could probably benefit from the lesson Teen Freak Peter Parker learned back in 1962: with great power comes great responsibility.
(ed. note: I suppose this is as good a time as ever to announce that we’re leaving the Amazon Affiliate Program. We’ve been planning on announcing our departure for quite a while, but, to be honest, we’re second rate activists and just kept forgetting to do it. Since starting Full Stop, I’ve struggled with what I suppose you could call the ethical responsibilities of literary journalism (thankfully there are very few), and our decision to leave the Affiliates Program is partly the result of that thinking. This is all a somewhat roundabout way of saying that we’re resigning in protest of Amazon, though not as a direct result of the appalling story in The Morning Call. – Alex Shephard)