Call it being scared straight.
A 24-year-old Manteca woman had applied for a job at Amazon. She was looking forward to what she called her possible first “adult” job as the position was advertised for 40 hours a week with set days.
Up until then she had worked part-time jobs — often two at a time — to make ends meet.
She applied online through a site clearly marked with Amazon’s logo, went through the interview process, and did the drug tests. All the time she was repeatedly told it was a job for Amazon. So when she was offered a job she gave notice to a fairly decent steady job of 25 to 30 hours a week that wasn’t temporary.
Imagine her surprise on her first day of work when she’s informed of two things — she will not be working for Amazon per se but SMX Staffing which contracts with Amazon. That didn’t overly bother her given the $13 an hour pay, the 40 hours, plus the promise of healthcare insurance and benefits such as paid vacation that were dangled in front of her. They also reminded the people they had just hired to work in the benevolent-sounding fulfillment center of the mandatory overtime the job entailed. What was news to the woman — and everyone else in the room that hadn’t been down this road before — was that it would likely mean 14 hour days more often than not.
The first few days went well packing as she was consistently a top performer packaging items. It was during a lunch break where a worker cleared things up for her.
The 40-year-old guy urged her not to “end up like me” and to go back to college.
He was on his third gig at Amazon. That’s when she learned what being hired “full-time” meant for those who applied online, were interviewed and hired. It meant you’d be working for just under three months and your job would go bye, bye. But no worries you can apply again when work is available.
In asking around, she soon discovered the reality of Amazon. SMX Staffing wasn’t filling a seasonal need such as holiday staffing but they were providing wave after wave of “temporary fulltime” workers year round. She came across more than a few workers who had been in that cycle for 18 months working for three months, losing their jobs, and then being called back a month or so later. It’s all perfectly legal because SMX Staffing is not Amazon. Labor laws apply differently to what is basically a temp agency.
It is clear what Amazon is doing and why Jeff Bezos — who some equate to a modern-day Henry Ford — is able to generate boatloads of money from selling consumer goods. That money is then plowed back into other efforts to “disrupt the economy” so Amazon can take over more and more markets by dispatching the competition through lower prices and quick delivery service.
Bezos is no Henry Ford. Ford paid his workers — from engineers to assembly line workers — decent pay under comparatively decent conditions.
Distribution center jobs can be grueling. And while most pay is good, it’s not great. But Amazon’s competitors — or more precisely Bezos’ targets — don’t treat workers like Amazon.
Bezos likes spreading that money he rakes in on the back of fulfillment center workers to politicians that craft things such as the Affordable Care Act. He says he supports the goal of affordable insurance which means as long as he’s not paying for it. Someone working nine months a year in three-month increments with periods of being unemployed between via a temp agency doesn’t have to be provided healthcare coverage under the law. That means Bezos — who has a net worth on $30.3 billion based on how well he can squeeze costs for Amazon stock value — avoids a 30 percent per employee cost by using a temp agency that absolves Amazon of any appearance they are dumping hundreds of workers on three month cycles to keep employee costs down.
His guilt — assuming he has any — is assuaged by the fact those workers can go to health exchanges and buy insurance Amazon doesn’t have to provide. Of course workers caught in the Amazon employment revolving door tend to make a little bit too much thanks to mandatory overtime with their on and off again temporary employment to qualify for subsidies meaning they can’t afford health insurance.
The Bezos model — and indeed that of most of the tech sector — is great at creating wealth. But that wealth is for themselves and their investors.
They make Henry Ford and other capitalists of a bygone era that some like to villainize look like patron saints of labor.
At the end of the day Amazon has the heart of Mr. Scrooge and the soul of a slave driver.
The Manteca woman at the end of four days realized the so-called “new economy” is stacked against those at the bottom. She quit and is now working for a small business that at the end of the day may not provide a 40-hour a week job but doesn’t view employees as if they were cattle futures.
Meanwhile mega corporations shed costs by shirking basic responsibilities to employees that Henry Ford never would have dared considering.
Yes, change is inevitable. But more than a few 24 year olds are starting to see clearly what that means given the rules government has created.
And people wonder why some claim the system is rigged or stacked against them as never before in America.