Amazon’s warehouse workers have been under extreme pressure for much of the past 16 months to keep up with the demand for online goods from households during the pandemic. Now, employees must deal with the pressure of meeting a surge in orders due to Amazon’s summer shopping holiday, which begins on Monday.
Several full-time Amazon (AMZN) warehouse employees told CNN Business that their regular 10-hour shifts will be increased to a mandatory 11-hour shift this week, putting in a minimum of 55 hours. According to the employees, an extra day will be added to their schedules to help meet the flood of sales spurred by Prime Day, Amazon’s highly anticipated two-day sale. They’ll be compensated for working overtime (at least time-and-a-half, according to Amazon). However, workers claim that overtime hasn’t been scarce during the pandemic, as Amazon has required both mandatory and voluntary overtime at times. Because of the additional hours worked, there is less time to rest before returning to work.
Warehouse work, even on a normal week, can be extremely taxing. In testimony before Senate members earlier this year, one Amazon employee described the job as “an intense workout every day.”
Others in conversations with CNN Business throughout the pandemic echoed this sentiment, describing a fast-paced environment where workers are lucky if they can get through the sprawling facilities — many of which span the equivalent of 28 football fields — in time to heat up a meal, snag a seat for 20 to 25 minutes to eat, and rest their feet during a shift.
Pandemic-related precautions at facilities, such as limiting the number of entrances into the building and enforcing one-way pedestrian traffic policies, have only added to the time crunch for some.
One worker at an Oregon facility, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said that all it takes to waste time is “one person who wants to walk at a snail’s pace in front of me.” Workers are also acutely aware that nearly everything they do inside the facility is being tracked, from their time and productivity to their adherence to social distancing policies.
The pandemic, as well as a historic union push at one Amazon facility, brought new attention to these working conditions, prompting Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, to promise changes and admit that more needs to be done to improve warehouse workers’ working conditions.
However, that will not be completed in time for Prime Day. Workers told CNN Business that the job continues to take a toll on their bodies and minds, particularly during periods of high demand when mandatory overtime is in effect.
“When I think of Amazon Prime Day, I think of mandatory overtime,” said Tyler Hamilton, who works as a trainer at Amazon’s Shakopee, Minnesota, facility. “For customers, maybe it’s Prime Day — for us, it is at least Prime Week.”
Customers and employees experience Prime Day differently, according to Natalie Monarrez, an Amazon associate at the company’s Staten Island facility. “I think the discounts are really helpful for the customers,” she said. “It is overwhelming for the workers. But we find a way to work through it and deal with it like we always do.”
In a statement, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told CNN Business: “Even with careful planning, as an organization that has seasonal fluctuations of customer demand, overtime is sometimes necessary and when that does happen, we ensure that all employees are fairly compensated.”
“We also have a process in place so that employees who are unable to work overtime for personal reasons are able to speak with managers and map out a schedule that works for them,” Nantel added, noting that typically the company gives employees three weeks’ notice ahead of mandatory extra time but, at times, that time frame is shorter.
Monarrez, who told CNN Business she’s been living out of her car in recent years, said she’s worked a few Prime Days and that it usually entails more of the same physical labor she does every other day. She explained, “I throw the packages in the boxes on the conveyer belt.” “I need to hit a minimum of 1,800 packages per hour, so I tune everything or everybody out and try to stay laser focused on what I’m doing so I can either meet or exceed that rate.”
The existence of Prime Day exemplifies the underlying issues of valuing profit and speed over workers’ well-being, according to Dania Rajendra, director of Athena, a coalition of organizations focused on confronting Amazon’s growing power.