The Amazon Experiment

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My Amazon experience in Haslet, Texas was quite an experience. Huh?

Well let me explain.

Some administrative stuff:

  • First day of work Wednesday October 14th, 8 hour orientation
  • 1st week of work started Saturday October 17th, 5 hour days for four days.
  • 2nd week of work started Saturday October 24th, 10 hour days for four days.
  • Remaining 7 weeks started on Saturdays and worked mostly 11 hour days for 5 days.
  • Last day of work was December 19th.
  • Base Rate: $10.75 per hour.
  • Completion Bonus: $1.00 for each hour worked.
  • Working both Saturday and Sunday Bonus: $1.00 for all hours after November 8th.
  • Gross Pay $6,600.
  • Amazon paid for our campground.

Building information:

  • 1.7 million square feet, largest of all Amazon facilities.
  • 250 truck dock doors.
  • 5,000 + employees.  Approximately half of these are hired during the peak or Christmas season.
  • Set records for in bound boxes and out bound packages.
  • 3,000 robots to move stock around facility.

My shift was DL4 – this meant I was on day shift and the first day of my work week started on Saturday and on a 4 day week the last day was Tuesday. A normal week is 4 ten hour days.  Overtime day was Wednesday and I had off Thursday and Friday. I was assigned to the In Bound department but I spent time in other departments as business needs changed. As I later learned the only real choice I had was if I wanted day work or night work. What shift you are put on and what department you are assigned to is based on business needs when you start.

My first day of work was training on Amazon policies, terms, safety training and a quick tour of the facility. I was one of about 50 workampers that were brought on that week. Amazon call us their CamperForce.   Amazon has 3 other facilities that use CamperForce in the mid-west.

Then onto the 1st week of work. Amazon has you work 5 hour days to start off to toughen you up. At first I thought why only 5 hours? After 5 hour days of being on my feet all hours except break time I was quite happy it was only 5 hours.  My feet were tired and hurting.  About the 4th week I toughen up.   At the start of your shift, and after lunch, you attend a stand up meeting. The department management goes over what happened the last work day, how much processed, safety tips along with stretching. I was assigned to shadow a person on the receiving line. You are at a station where boxes come down the line, you open the box, take items out and put the items into totes that are transported to the Stow department. You use a scanner and monitor in each step. Not something I thought I would enjoy doing the next 9 weeks but hey you do what “The Man” tells you to do. The next day at the stand up meeting they asked for volunteers to work on the dock. I volunteered. I guess I spent about 80% of my time there. I don’t know what my title was but I called myself a “box thrower”.

I have not done physical work since the summer of 1976. And I am sure it was not this physical. By the end of 10 hour days I was dog tired. On my 11 hour days and most were 11 hour days, I was double dog tired. But I did enjoy it, it is a nice change of pace. BUT don’t think I want to do this 12 months a year. NO WAY!

What was the work environment like? Very clean but boy was it loud. I have no idea how many miles of conveyer belts there are running through the building but it was miles and miles. Some of these belts were pretty slow, less than walking speed, when taking empty boxes to the trash compactor. The belts that moved the boxes to the Out Bound department were really moving. I guess the speed was in excess of 20 mph. With all these conveyer belts moving it created lots of noise. If a belt slowed down or stopped the sound decrease was very noticeable. The break rooms where in good shape but depending where you were in the building you could have a 5 minute walk to the break room.

What all did I do? Well 90% of the time I was in the In Bound department where mostly I was on the dock processing pallets of boxes to go onto the receiving lines. Not anything exciting but I got to move around and interact with my coworkers.

Now if the dock was slow I would get thrown onto the receiving line. This happened about 1 time per week. The problem with this was there is a definite procedure you must follow and I never really mastered this until the end of my time there. When you made a mistake or have a question you would push a button and an alarm would go off so a problem solver would know to come over to see you. Reminded me of being an ice hockey goalie and the puck got passed you into the net.

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View of In Bound Department.  You can see the truck dock doors in the back.  The 3 receiving lines flow from the dock doors to bottom of the picture.  There are two areas like this – north side and south side

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This is a side view looking from the North Side Inbound area down to Out Bound and then to South Bound area.   BIG AXX building.  To the left side of the picture you can see the 4 levels of Stow Department where the robots run around.

 

Now at times In Bound would have an excess of man power and you would be loaned out to other departments. I was in Stow for one afternoon. Totes would come up to my work station and I put items into shelving units that were brought to you by robots.

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In the foreground is a robot without a shelf on it. Behind and to the left is a robot carrying a shelf unit.  These are the smaller robots.  Larger robots move pallets around.

 

I also spent a day in packing. This was a pretty easy job. A cart would be at your work station with about 40 different shipments. I would scan the shipment and on the monitor you were told what size box you need to use to put the shipment in. Put the product(s) in, tape the box up, and send it down a conveyor belt. This got to be pretty boring.

I also spent one week in Out Bound. This was the most physical work I had. What I did most often was load trailers. Most trailers were floor loads and you would build walls starting about 2’ from the nose of the trailer and fill in behind the wall with odd shaped boxes. The walls needed to be tight side to side and floor to ceiling. Then build another wall 2′ in front of the prior wall and repeat. Very fast paced. If the conveyor belt bringing you the packages got backed up a blue light would come on and an alarm would sound. Like the hockey goalie again.

The campgrounds that were available for the CamperForce were not exactly first rate. All of the campgrounds had problems. We picked a campground that had the best rating for Vicki to live and work in while I was away at Amazon BUT it was 50 minutes away from Amazon. Other campgrounds where close but not very good campgrounds. Pick your poison.

So why did I sort of kinda of enjoy my time at Amazon? Simply the Camperforce people are just great to work with. I met and made good work friends with many coworkers. They came from many walks of life and had many different life experiences we spoke about. I worked with people in their early 30s to early 70s. So much to learn from this group from where they are from and what it was like to live in their area to what places they traveled to and of course lots of free advice.

Am I going back next year? Ya Boy, already have applied. Who knows what I will be doing but I know it will be fun getting back in touch with the people I worked with this past year and catch up with them on what they did the last 9 months. The campground situation is supposed to improve. There is a race car track right next to Amazon and they are adding to their campground. We already have our name on the list so hopefully I will have a 5 minute commute vs. a 50 minute commute next year.

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2 Responses to The Amazon Experiment

  1. colibabas says:

    Wow…I got exhausted just reading this! Those are loooong work days. 🙂

  2. Harry says:

    Yepper. All I did was get up at 4 am, go to work, come home, eat, go to bed and then repeat.

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