Amazon has grown over the last few years to become the biggest e-commerce platform in the world. Although from a shopper’s point of view things look easy, making such a huge corporation run as efficiently as it does is never easy. One key area in Amazon’s infrastructure is a network of fulfillment centers around the country. These are huge warehouses where workers track, sort, pack and shuffle each order before it’s sent on its way to the buyer.
A lot of critics have argued that the working conditions in these centers are tough. They believe the workers face very strenuous conditions and it’s not hard to see why. For instance, Amazon workers at these centers are forced to process hundreds of boxes each hour. Those that don’t move fast enough are fired and replaced. The most interesting thing, however, is that even with these tough conditions, there seem to be many people ready to work for the e-commerce giant. Replacing workers in these fulfillment centers is, therefore, very easy.
According to reports published in a number of online news outlets, the rate at which workers are fired due to low productivity is actually higher than most people think. As a matter of fact, a letter obtained by some of these outlets appeared to confirm that Amazon fired “hundreds” of workers in one single facility in less than a year for failing to meet productivity quotas. Amazon did also confirm through one of its spokespeople that it had terminated over 300 full-time associates due to inefficiency.
The e-commerce giant operates 75 fulfillment centers in North America with more than 125,000 employees. Thousands of these employees will not have a job by the end of the year simply because they cannot pack packages fast enough. And it looks like Amazon is using a very advanced system to track and terminate employees who fail to meet their targets. Everything is actually automated. The system tracks the productivity of each associate and sends warnings or even termination recommendations without the input of supervisors.
However, Amazon insists that supervisors have the power to override the machines but that rarely happens. Many critics feel that such an automated system sees numbers and not people. They argue that productivity can be affected by a number of things, many of which are not captured by the system. In essence, the workers are treated like robots. The system even tracks what Amazon calls “time off task.” This means that if a worker takes extra minutes on their break the system will flag it.
If it emerges that the worker is actually spending a lot of “time off task”, warnings will be sent to the supervisor and termination may also occur. Some facility workers have in fact noted that they tend to avoid bathroom breaks in order to keep up with the high demands expected of them. Amazon has said that it has an appeals system for people who are fired and they can easily be retrained and rehired.