Disclaimer: We are not spokespersons or officially affiliated with Amazon in any way. This account is of our personal experience as seasonal employees in the Cambellsville, KY distribution center in 2017. I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences. Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part and are not intentional. To start at the beginning of our Amazon experience, click here for the first Amazon post.
We had another full day of packing, and because we are on mid-shift they had a little trouble getting us started, but pretty quickly they sorted us out (no pun intended) and had us trained on multi’s. Unlike singles (where the items come on a conveyor belt in totes, and each order is only a single item) with multi’s you get a large cart on wheels that has multiple cubbies, and in each cubby is a person’s order, always more than one item. You scan a label on the cart and the computer leads you through, bin by bin, not only knowing the items you should have but recommending a box or bag for the combined size of the items. That was pretty amazing to me and also generally spot on, although occasionally we would either upgrade or downgrade to a different size to include more packing materials. The same general rules of which items could go in which types of bags of boxes still applied, and Lee in particular loved the puzzle of determining what would go in each box.
The expected packing rate is different on multi’s, with the expectation you will pack 185-200 in an hour, and although Lee met that target his first day (big shock for any that know him lol) I lagged a bit behind at 160 an hour. I was OK with that because I deliberately slowed myself down and I had a largely error free day at that rate, which I thought was good for my first multi day. Speaking of that, we had a nice conversation with the pack manager, who is the first manager we have met who is our age. Turns out she had been there since the first day, in 1999, and the changes she has seen in process are pretty spectacular. We chatted a bit about how things used to be and it impressed me even more to realize that Amazon has made so many process improvements in such a relatively short period of time. The company I worked at for 15 years, for example, had been in business over 100 years and change came to them extremely slowly.
Everywhere I looked in the packing process I saw technological improvements and it was impressive. My favorite is probably the tape machine, which is a simple idea but has been a game changer. There is a reservoir of water on what looks like the bottom of an old fashion cash register and you select the “auto” button and not only does the correct amount of tape come out, but it’s also pre-wetted so you can just slap it on. Yes, if you change box size you need to manually select the button, but all of the buttons are clearly marked by size so this just takes an extra second or so. Really nifty.
And physically we held up very well, with my back only getting a little stiff in the fourth quarter. I found that doing lots of apparel in a row made me a little stiff, so I intentionally looked for some carts that had other items to change things up a bit. Almost all apparel goes in a poly bag, which is super easy, but the motions can get repetitive. Almost all other items are in a box, which requires different muscles and changes things up a bit. The tricky part, for me, is making sure you do enough apparel to keep those numbers up, because apparel goes much faster. It’s just a matter of dropping the clothes in the bag, which is hanging right in front of you, peeling off a plastic strip to expose the glue, and flipping over and sealing the flap. In all fairness that’s mainly because I don’t know all the box sizes yet, and fumble a bit on certain orders. Even after two days I find myself learning what fits in which box, and I am sure by the end of the week I’ll stop struggling with this so much. Lee of course has that kind of brain and just “knows” what fits where, which is probably why his numbers are so much higher than mine. That’s what I am going with anyway!
Oh, and on that note, our pick supervisor came up and found us and let me know my rates last week were 133%, but more importantly I had 100% quality. I was really glad to hear that, since that was a goal of mine and slowing down definitely seemed to help. Lee though got some news that was pretty special. Turns out that after 5 weeks, he was the number one camperforce employee in picking this year, with over 144% productivity and 100% quality five weeks in a row. I told our supervisor that he would be impossible to live with now, which he laughed at but he seems a little confused by us. We get that a lot actually, because we are different than many camperforce they see, but that’s mainly because we are younger and tend to be a little competitive. I’m impressed Lee did so well, because for once we are not the youngest people in the camperforce work group. He is competing with a few kids in their 20’s and 30’s and still rocked it. Anyway, enough bragging on my husband and I am sure many of you are wondering why he worked so hard, but Lee really just has the one speed. And the quality thing, well if you knew him you would know everything he does he tries to do perfectly. That’s just how he is hard wired.
So it was another interesting day, and we will be working all week up there so I’ll let you know how things progress. We like it though, because if nothing else time is going very quickly and we find we are less tired at the end of every day.
Tracy: 6,833 steps ( 2.85 miles) We parked in the back today and used the breakroom near the packers which really saved on steps
Items Packed: I don’t have totals but it was 160 per hour
Lee: 6,003 (2.65 miles)
Items Packed: 191 per hour
Interesting Item Packed: For the person who has everything try the Starfrit Rotate Express. It is an electric peeler for potatoes, etc and both Lee and I laughed at why someone would need this versus a good old fashioned potato peeler, but hey some people always want the new gadget…Denny!!
I am writing this one directly after our shift, because it was a rough one and I wanted to talk about it while it was fresh in my mind. Keep in mind this was one day, and experiences do vary, but I think we have learned enough now to point out what we don’t like about packing. We started the day off and once again, no one knew where to put us. That worked out OK though because we did multi’s during first break, and then singles until lunch. Multi’s was interesting because at one point Lee and I were both working off the same cart (they were premiums and needed processed quickly) and not only did the computer know who was doing what, but there were no errors. Pretty amazing. Singles was actually pretty fun, and since I felt more comfortable I liked how easy it felt compared to multi’s, plus we were flying through it. Kelly was also in the station right across the conveyor belt from me and she gave me some box suggestions when I got stuck a couple of times, which was really helpful. Both of us ended up doing pretty well in singles (my rate was 109 and Lee’s was 144 with the goal being 110.) Oh, and I keep forgetting to mention that the day shift manager plays little snippets of songs and gives short pep talks in the loudspeaker which I think is really great. He seems like a really good guy and Kelly really likes working for him.
For lunch we had hamburgers and hot dogs, which was provided by our supervisor, and it was pretty good. We had a nice time talking to some folks and then went back for the second half of the shift and were on the schedule. As good as it was to have set stations, unfortunately these ones were a bit of a mess. There is a checklist you go through at the beginning of your work session, but since you need that first pack to be within 10 minutes of the shift we usually breeze through that. It was clear pretty quickly though that was a mistake in this case. I ran out of water in the auto tape machine, was missing some boxes, and ran out of packing tape in the same hour. Lee was also missing boxes and he ran out of printer paper.
They have a really great Andon system (signal that let’s someone know you need help), and here you put on a blue light and runners bring you what you need, but on this particular shift that help was slow in coming. To be fair, those folks have been awesome up to this point, so it was probably just an off night for the guy doing it, but it really slowed us down. When no one comes your choices are to get it yourself or do without (ie: use other bags and boxes), and we muddled through but it slowed both of us down. During all of this our supervisor came up and for the first time talked to Lee about a report he was on. They randomly pulled one of his boxes and opened it and there wasn’t enough bubble wrap in it. I’ll be honest I was pretty gleeful he ended up on a list for once, but it wasn’t lost on me that he had packed probably 1,000 items yesterday and that came out on a report. In all fairness he said he was sure there were a lot more of those, and it was good they mentioned it so he could correct it.
Being gleeful though was probably not the best strategy because karma bit me a little and the next couple of hours got worse. I kept getting carts with weird scenarios on them and ran into more problems with my work station. I was getting a little frustrated, when I realized that every time I went to pick a cart it was the last one with the earliest time on it. Let me explain that. Every rebin cart has the time on it when the premium items have to be processed by to get on the truck in time, and it’s a big deal if those items aren’t done. People start scurrying around close to the time and supervisors start doling out the work. I thought it would be simpler to make sure all carts were down in the proper order (as we were trained) so intentionally took the earliest cart I could find.
The problem was that at least four times it was the only cart left in it’s time slot and it had lots of difficult things on it. One time, for example, a cart had 30 shawls that went in one box and 53 shirts that went in another. Those “Special packs” take extra time, but since I am in training and my numbers don’t really count I kept taking them. Those carts got worse at the night progressed though and I found myself getting particularly annoyed when I intentionally picked an easier apparel only cart (with a later time) and after finishing it saw that the hard one with the earlier time frame was still sitting there.
And look, I get it. These rates are no joke, and for regular employees cherry picking makes sense, but so many people working the system like that means the system is flawed. I started thinking about possible solutions like spreading those items between carts, or forcing it to really be random so the workload was more spread out, and I as I was thinking I kept working on those carts. Finally at the very end of the night I got a doozy. It was like every difficult item was on the carts. Tons of serialized item orders, two lithium battery orders (they require extra stickers), 10 very heavy curtains all in one big box…etc. At this point I started to get really mad, so I walked over to the supervisor’s desk.
The assistant working at the time was someone I had never met and I was really careful to keep my tone as light and friendly as possible. I explained I was Camperforce and just cross training, but wanted to show him something. He walked back to my work station with me, while I said I understood why the last cart was always the worst (the regulars can tell pretty quickly which carts will be a problem and at least to my eye avoid those if at all possible), but this cart looked like whoever had stocked it took every problem item and stuck it on one cart. That was a totally different problem to my mind, and I told him I just wanted him to see it and then I would shut up about it and get it processed.
He walked up to the cart, looked it over and then made the colossal mistake of telling me that was the type of cart he would “go for.” I looked at him dumbfounded. It was one thing to commiserate a bit and then say it was what it was, but really? I started pointing out all the unusual items on it, but he was holding firm, and then I was done. I mentioned that it was statistically improbable that I would get the last cart in a time segment four times in a row, which meant other more experienced people had looked at this cart and passed it up. If it was that great of a cart, I was sure one of them would have jumped on it as it would have helped with their rates. He just kept repeating he would have picked it and I ended the conversation as quickly as possible. That’s the first time I have felt completely dismissed since we have started working there and the experience made me pretty angry. But I kept working on that cart and when our shift was done pushed it (half unfinished) back in the aisle where I am sure it will sit until someone absolutely has to do it.
And just to be perfectly clear, I understand that this problem existed well before me. What bothers me so much is that it forces me to cherry pick as well, or it’s unlikely I will be able to make rate. Our numbers were much worse today (with Lee being at 177 per hour and mine being only 143 per hour). The effect on rate of those rough carts does add up, and if they aren’t interspersed with some easier ones the rate is going to show that. For some reason that really bothers me and even more so because when I tried to talk to someone about it I was blown off. Anyway, that’s what happened. We only have one more day left in packing and then our training is done and I imagine we will go back to picking. As much as I enjoy not being in pain every day, I do miss picking some, but I think Lee would be content to stay in packing from here on out. (I don’t miss picking at all. I like everything about packing. – Lee)
Tracy: 9,061 steps ( 3.79 miles)
Items Packed: I don’t have totals but it was 160 per hour
Lee: 7,445 steps (3.29 miles)
Items Packed: 191 per hour
Interesting Item Packed: It’s interesting seeing entire orders together, which you don’t really get to see in pick. People buy odd combinations of things and on occasion it really gives me pause. Today someone bought a black sweatshirt and a white generic mask and I packed those together. Seriously looked like what you would wear in a robbery and I thought it was so strange I showed it to Lee. But in the box it went and I moved on. Some things just make you go hmmm. That aside my interesting item for today was Strathmore Sketch Pads. I packed quite a few of these and they seemed like a nice gift to give the artist in your life.
Well our last day of training went much better. We were on the schedule, back in multi’s, and because it was a relatively slow day the carts were more fairly distributed. Several times we were waiting for the next cart to be ready and in that scenario cherry picking is practically eliminated. The work I received was a nice mix of apparel with a few non-apparel carts and I felt like I was doing much better from a speed perspective. The stations were also well stocked on both half of our shifts and we got to be stationed near Kelly again in the morning, which was nice. One thing that I enjoy about packing (versus picking) is you do have time for longer conversations with people. You still are working of course, but people stop by and talk a bit who are on other tasks and you can talk to the person next to you a bit between the stations.
During one of the down times, one of the assistants asked me if I wanted to do a safety audit, and this time we did them on the re binning stations. We watched people take items from big rolling bins and put them on the segregated carts and that process was also pretty interesting. I learned the computer tells them what slot to put which item in, and the people doing it are working on two carts simultaneously. So they don’t control what goes on the rebin carts either, which sort of proves the point from last night that the “bad carts” are not deliberately made. Very interesting. The coolest thing was because the big blue carts are pretty deep I wondered how folks got to the stuff in the bottom without having to bend way over and reach to the bottom to dig into them, but it turns out Amazon has a solution for that as well. The bottom of each one is spring loaded and as the weight decreases the bottom actually rises. Pure genius. Seriously I don’t know what engineer thought that up, but they deserve a medal or something, because instead of bending way over and possibly missing things in the bottom corner the person can stay mostly level. Very, very cool.
Anyway, it was a pretty good day and I’m really glad we had the opportunity to cross train. We aren’t 100% sure which job we are doing tomorrow, so we will find out when we go in. All Camperforce got a message from the General Manager stating they would let us know our release date no later than December 15th “so people could plan travel” and we are curious to see if they will be having early release like they did last year. We did get a call from a gate guarding company earlier this week, so if we are released early we will have to talk about what makes the most sense for when to head to Texas. For right now though, we are just plodding right along and looking forward to having some time off this weekend.
Oh one last thing. It’s been much colder here this week, with temps close to freezing at night and although our furnace is starting now it is not consistently firing. Lee has had mixed luck with getting it to start when we get home (it was 45 degrees in the RV last night when we got back from work) and obviously this is a concern because the underneath could freeze. We called the RV company who worked on it, but the service department is closed until December 27th, so once again we are on our own trying to figure this out. Frustrating.
Tracy: steps 8,683 ( 3.62 miles)
Items Packed: We couldn’t get our totals today because when we leave everyone else is on break.
Lee: ( miles)
Items Packed: We couldn’t get our totals today because when we leave everyone else is on break.
Interesting Item Packed: I packed several books today and I got really excited when I saw Eat Real Vietnamese Food a Step by Step Guide. I couldn’t help but take a quick peek and the step by step instructions with pictures were really amazing. Vietnamese food is my absolute favorite and I am definitely putting this on my list of future birthday presents. My pick of the day for most people though was an Electronic Luggage Scale. The concept is you can attach it to your luggage and quickly check your rate. For those people who travel a lot this would definitely come in handy as heavy luggage can result in some stiff fees. No clue how it works in practice, but it made me stop and think about it and it would have been handy at one point in my life. And if you don’t have a need for that how about these Oreo Candy Canes. No idea how they taste, but if you like oreos and like candy canes, well why not combine the two!
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