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.
One of my favorite parts of our mornings is chatting with our kids on Instant Messenger. We have a five person private message group (us and our three kids) and around 9am est everyone is usually awake. This is no small thing, as one lives in Minneapolis, one in Charleston, SC, and one in Korea, so finding a time when everyone is awake and not working is difficult. The conversations are exactly like the ones around our dining room table when they were little kids (although the language is a bit more adult!) and they flow from topic to topic. It’s a wonderful thing, when your grown kids have a relationship with each other, and to be included in that is very special. Depending on the morning though, it does take some time, so there are days when it feels like we just got up and are heading out the door to work. Overall I really like the swing shift and am happy we are on it, but I do wish I could bring myself to wake up earlier in the morning. Both of us have always been early risers, but we are consistently sleeping until 9am. (I’m sorry, did she just type that we were BOTH early risers? Now, THAT’S funny. – Lee) The body just needs what the body needs, and sleep is a big part of that. We leave here at 11:45am to head in for our 12:15 shift, so those two hours are spent blogging, showering, eating lunch and making our dinner for the night. The time goes by quickly, and it’s hard to squeeze anything else in although on occasion we do find time to watch a TV show.
It turned out to be a really slow day and after the first quarter I decided to walk down and check out what was going on with my route. I’ve been in one building for over two weeks now and I really miss the other buildings. Turns out I was “locked” in one building, but when I talked to the day shift supervisor he opened me back up again. He said that 45% of the work was coming out of that building, but I explained while I didn’t mind doing my fair share I liked the variety. Once he opened me up I started hitting some other areas, which was really great, although it did mean I had more stairs. I know from past experience the steps are roughly the same, but in order to get to the non-apparel items I needed to add back in steps. At the end of the night, my feet were once again sore, but I was definitely happier as the variety matters to me.
Lee on the other hand is perfectly content being locked in the new building. He likes the lighting and temperatures and the consistency those areas provide. It just goes to show how different people are, and why it’s important to think about that before signing up for this job. One thing in particular that I can’t stress enough is if you are a person who isn’t OK having a ton of time with their own thoughts, this definitely isn’t the job for you. It is hours and hours of largely being by yourself and if your thoughts take a “dark turn” only you can get yourself out of that head space. In general I like to keep my mind as neutral as possible and just let the random thoughts flow, but that’s not always possible, and I have spent several days here spending too much time mulling things over. I tend to be an introspective person by nature, but trust me, too much introspection is not always a good thing. And even if you find a way to use that time constructively (our friend Bill solves all kinds of technical problems while he is picking), it’s still a ton of time to mentally fill. So, to give you an idea of the kind of random thoughts that come into my head on a picking day, I wrote a few down so you can see. It’s kind of funny how all over the place these are, but for me at least, this sort of free association is relaxing. Keep in mind these are random thoughts so try not to judge me too harshly lol.
- Lots more people wear hats than I thought.
- Who knew pocket handkerchiefs were still a thing. Is that sanitary?
- Is there a correlation between teams winning games and the amount of team apparel they sell? There must be.
- Who puts skulls on little kids clothes? Why tempt fate that way?
- I think it’s cool they went in a totally different direction when casting the new Aquaman in the Justice League movie.
- I really don’t get Ugly Christmas sweaters. Why spend that much money on something you can only wear once a year? Plus, ugly. If I had to buy one though the Pimping Elf version isn’t totally horrendous. No, it’s still ridiculous.
- I am picking a ton of Ugly Christmas beanies. Who wears all these beanies? Do the lights in them work all through Christmas? A beanie is better than a sweater, but still.
- How does the system know how to put items together in a multi-pick scenario where I pick an item and someone else picks the other part of the order? How do they make sure the items get to pack at the same time? I’d love to get a look at that logic.
As you can see it’s not all random thoughts, but there are lots of them and these all came in the first 2-1/2 hours of our shift. If you are a person who can control those thoughts, I really admire you, my mind tends to be all over the place when I am not super focused on a task. And like I said, if something is bothering me I tend to really look at the scenario in multiple ways, but it’s not a great way to spend a work day. One of the locals I have become close to is into meditation and she uses those skills to help keep her mind clear and focused, which those of you who are into yoga may be able to use those techniques here.
(This is one of the things I don’t like about the gig. 10 hours a day in my head is too much. I tend to burn through the good stuff pretty fast, because good isn’t complicated, and then the ugly dark stuff creeps in, and stays while my head just turns it over and over and zips off on a million paths. It’s very, very difficult to spend that much time in negative head space. I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with me. I’ve tried and tried to get it under control, but there just isn’t enough brain work in the job to distract me. If you know your ABCs and can count, you can do it completely on auto pilot. And focusing on pushing pack the ugly stuff apparently takes enough of the part of my brain that tracks letters and numbers that I make mistakes, and there’s really no point in doing this if at the end of the day you aren’t 100% error free. I can’t wait for this to be over. – Lee)
Anyway, I came home pretty sore, but had a decent day and adding those additional sections really helped the day pass quicker. Lee did NOT have a good day, but he managed to get through it and we came home , read a little and went to bed. Still haven’t heard about when our last day will be, I’ll let you know when we find out.
Tracy: 21,564 steps (9.52 miles) (estimated based on 85% of Lee)
Items Picked: 742
Lee: 25,370 steps (11.21 miles)
Items Picked: 977
Interesting Item Picked: I picked over 14 BeatsPill wireless speakers these seem to be very popular this year. But my absolute favorite item of the night came pretty late in the day and really made me laugh. It was a large Pink Squid Hat and it totally cracked me up. The eyes were googly and awesome and it seemed like it was made decently well. Instead of an Ugly Christmas hat why not try one of these lol.
One of the cool things about working our shift is we get to see almost everyone picking sooner or later. We cross over the day and night shift and also see people on front half or back half shifts. It’s funny though because you won’t see people for a few days and then you keep running into the same person over and over again in the aisles. If I see a person enough I’ll kid them to stop stalking me, and there may even be some time to have several mini-conversations with a person and get to know them a little better. Last night was probably the first “real” conversation I have had with another work kamper (one that I didn’t know before coming here) and I was surprised by how much ground we covered in a relatively short period of time.
It helped that we were both on one of those small floors in D and since we were essentially circling each other for an hour there was lots of opportunity to talk. The whole thing started off because she had won the daily clock in contest and I was thrilled that someone I recognized one the $100. There are lots of prizes being given out every day, but mainly the winners are full time employees and people I didn’t know. This was the first person I recognized (they post their badge picture on the screens every day) and I was just happy that one of us won the prize. Plus I knew from talking to her and her wife on breaks that they are working campers like us and I can’t pass up on opportunity to find our more about the person in those situations.
Even here most people we meet are working to supplement rather than for income so I always love getting the stories of folks like us. Turns out she worked in retail for many years and full time RVing was always her dream. It took a little time to talk her wife into it (not that different from Lee and I), but they seem to have taken to the lifestyle very well. It helps that even though they are our age they seem to be in fantastic physical shape. Where we are struggling to work our 50 every week, they have been consistently working 60 hours (the maximum allowed) and seem to be handling the physical challenges with relative ease. I base that on the fact that I see them zipping around the aisles, and it’s pretty clear who is struggling and who is handling the job well. That extra 10 hours of OT probably makes a huge difference in wages and they like the job and plan on returning.
What was interesting though about the conversation was why she left her old life. Aside from wanting to travel, she also was seeing the workforce change in her field and didn’t like where it was heading. She enjoys not being a manager anymore and although she can’t turn off that part of her brain finds it incredibly relaxing not to have to do anything about it. It was a really important reminder for me of one of the benefits of working these line level positions and we both agreed that the relative lack of stress in our lives was pretty amazing. The longer I am out of the traditional workforce I tend to remember what I liked and forget about what I didn’t, so these reminders are important. I still feel like we are not being paid enough for what we are doing, but that is certainly not a problem that exists only in this little part of Kentucky.
I really felt connected to her in those few minutes that we spoke and thought it was pretty cool that I got to know her a little better. It’s a shame we are working different shifts so can’t spend time outside of work hanging out, but I am planning on sharing my blog information with her so we can stay in contact if she would like. There is something really special about this lifestyle that opens you up to meeting new people. I don’t know if it’s the shared circumstances or the fact that those of us who do this tend to have similar personality traits, but those connections do happen more frequently than they ever did in my old life and we are not even actively seeking them out. It’s one of my favorite parts of the lifestyle.
Other than that it was a pretty basic day. Things are busy, but not too busy, and word on the “street” is we will not be getting done early. Lots of rumors are flying around, but all we really know is now they will tell us our final date on Dec 18th. Since we were committed to working until no later than the 23rd, it’s likely we will be here until the end. Lee did check with our Camperforce coordinator about our last day though, because it turns out we have to go in for a “release” meeting or we don’t get paid our bonus. Since that meeting usually falls on a Friday (our day off) we weren’t sure how we should handle that. Not surprisingly we got some vague responses about coming in and working a 4 hour day, the day of the meeting, but hopefully we get something a little more concrete soon. The bonus is probably the only thing that will put us in the black, so we need to make sure that follow whatever procedures are necessary to collect it.
Oh and I should definitely say it was freezing today. It was 24 degrees and very windy, and the wind had a serious bite to it. The temperature was fine inside the warehouse, but when we went outside on our breaks it was COLD. They have shelters to smoke in that have overhead heaters, which I appreciate, but the wind comes through them and we were all huddled together under those few heaters. I just don’t like the damp cold and this definitely qualified. Thankfully our heaters are working well (we are now leaving them on when we go to work) so the rig isn’t freezing when we get back to it. And I do want to say that the electric at our campground is fantastic. It is supporting 4 electric heaters with no issue and the water pressure is great, and the water is clean. It might not have the pretty views of the state park, but I love the utilities Heartland Campground provides. Plus you can’t beat the three minute (by car) commute.
Tracy: 21,696 steps (estimated based on 85% of Lee)
Items Picked: 930
Lee: 25,525 steps
Items Picked: 917
Interesting Item Picked: One thing I have been wanting to mention is we often see bags of real human hair extensions. Usually these are in covered bags, but occasionally they are in clear packaging and you can see the hair inside. That’s kind of weird for me, although the hair extensions must come from somewhere, and although most are from China I have also seen hair from Brazil. One of the things that makes it hard to pick are the super long descriptions and different types. It has lengths, curly or straight, and of course different colors although brown is by far the most common. It makes me think about where this hair comes from, who is selling their hair, and how much they are making. How fast does it grow and since there is so much of it, how many people are doing this. I have no moral objection to a person selling their hair, but I know how slow mine grows, so how much money is in it for them? I did a little bit of research and there are marketplaces for hair, and apparently “virgin” hair is the most expensive. The Amazon variety though is much cheaper than this, and according to the internet there are over 60,000 “manufacturers” in China alone. Here’s an article about it and not surprisingly if you are buying human hair be careful about who you are buying it from. Apparently Hindu pilgrims donate their hair to temples and some of that gets sold. And some of the companies put products in it which are gone after the first washing. Fascinating stuff. That’s not my pick of the day though. I pick a lot of socks and keep running into these socks from Foot Traffic called Alien Abduction. The UFO beaming up the cows cracks me up for some reason, so if you like an unusual sock these may be for you.
I have almost written this post several times, but it keeps getting pushed out by other topics, but today I am absolutely going to cover it. There is a concept in scheduling called “drip feed” and this is particularly interesting to me, because I worked on a scheduling project once and we had to decide whether or not to go this route with our technicians. Essentially drip feed is only telling the person you are scheduling what their next task is, and absolutely nothing else. They don’t know the entire workload or the entire schedule which prevents the employee from making many decisions. We talked at length with experts about using this method when we developed a scheduling program, but not surprisingly there was significant push back from our workforce when we piloted it. The benefits to the company are pretty obvious. Since the schedule is determined 100% by the computer system, the idea is that the employee will work with the most efficiency. Unfortunately most employees don’t like being kept in the dark about what their day looks like and since our technicians were highly skilled (and difficult to replace) ultimately we eliminated that feature of the system.
(I completely disagree that this system makes things more efficient, because there is no way a computer can take into account what it is to be human. There are an infinite number of subtle differences between people, and those variations themselves vary based on another infinite set of criteria and factors, and each person knows themselves better than any other person, and certainly better than a computer. Also, any strict or fanatical adherence to any preset system fails to learn from new information, and is inherently flawed. And failing to learn is the most inefficient thing there is. – Lee)
Which takes me to Amazon, where drip feed (in the picking process) is being used. I don’t know as a picker anything other than the pick I am currently working on. I have no idea how many items are in a batch or when that batch will end. I have no idea when it will move me to another area or how many orders are out there. I am told the backlog at the beginning and middle of my shift, but have no idea throughout the day how we are performing to the backlog. I do get a feel for how things are going by how long the pick paths are, but even though I make assumptions on how much work there is, it isn’t really accurate. So since I am on the other end of this scheduling technique how do I feel about it?
Well, on the one hand it makes my life easier. I tend to not worry about production levels or items waiting, and since I can’t see that information I don’t get stressed about it. The managers are monitoring it very closely, and more than any other job in my life, those sorts of things are definitely their problems and not mine. It does have some negative consequences throughout the work day, but I am not sure these outweigh being stress free. One of the things that bugs me is closing out a tote and putting it on a belt and then getting a new tote just to pick one or two more items and the batch is ended. That extra work could have been avoided if I would have known and could “squeeze in” those extra couple of items and the inefficiency of that bugs me. I also hate not knowing how many items I am going to pick. For example, I walked up four flight of stairs yesterday to pick one pair of socks and then walked down those flights and up three more to start a longer run. If I knew I could have opted out of the sock pick (probably why they don’t tell us) but either way all that extra walking is annoying. And for me it’s kind of hard to know when to go to the bathroom. I like stopping when it is along my walking path, but since I don’t know what that path will be, sometimes I have to stop what I am doing, go to the bathroom and then go back to work. Again less efficient. (For me, it makes me crazy that they are moving us around in groups. Frequently there will be 20 of us on a floor, and another floor has two pickers. And when they move me, they move 15 other people. It also makes NO sense to have pickers and stowers working in the same area. – Lee)
All of those little moments aside though, I just like having some level of control over what I am doing. Like most people, I think my brain is smarter than a computer, and would like a bit more autonomy. That’s one of the reasons I preferred packing to picking, because we were allowed to choose our own cart, and in some respects control our destiny. I don’t get to decide whether I am picking apparel or non-apparel items, or what section of the building I am in (although they do allow us to pick some preferences at least at a high level.) All that being said, I can see why they use this method. All of those individual decisions would probably slow things down overall, and I can definitely see where they would cause conflicts. The way the scheduling system works is probably the most efficient overall, but does require almost zero autonomy from the employees. So again keep that in mind if you sign up for the job. If you are fine with letting someone else drive, this probably won’t be an issue for you, but if you absolutely need to control your own workflow, you are not going to like this.
All that being said we were actually in pack for the first part of the say. Our supervisor totally stepped up and had an assistant dig into why we weren’t being selected. Turns out the fact that our training was done was never put in the system, but he fixed that which was very nice of him. Lee was VERY happy and I was happy that it all came back to me pretty quickly. Unfortunately we were back to picking for the second half of the day and it was busy. Lots of tight picks, which I love, and I even spent lots of time in my favorite mod (which is Q by the way), but even I got tired of pick after pick after I hit 427. Thankfully at that point I was moved into one of the newer mods and I had some long pick paths. Never thought I would say this, but I did appreciate the walking because it gave my shoulders and arms a break. The way I see it is if the system wants me to pick fast it will put my picks close to each other. If it wants me to pick slower and makes me walk more I will oblige. I’ve gotten pretty philosophical about it at this point and just follow the computer’s lead. Which really ties into the stuff I wrote at the beginning of this. The nicest part of the day was around 4:30 when the local high school band came in and played Christmas music in the lobby. The kids were pretty decent and it was nice to hear the music although you could really only hear it in the front lobby area. It made me smile.
Oh, and the absolute best part of my day yesterday was I found out I got the summer Lead job I wanted. We will be headed back to Oregon and I am so excited to be working with those folks again. Because it is a lead role, I am hoping it will contain the best parts of my old and new lives, and the fact that they are creating a custom job for Lee is really special. Fair warning, I will not be writing about that job in this level of detail. In my mind Amazon is fair game because I am the lowest level employee and it’s a common work kamper job. This new position will be different and this will probably read more like a travel blog this summer. Still working it out in my head, but enjoy the details while they last. Or maybe you might enjoy less work stuff and more life stuff. I know I would certainly like more balance in what I am writing about. Heck I would like more balance in my life, which is heavily slanted towards working right now.
Tracy: 16,303 steps (7.19 miles) (estimated based on 85% of Lee)
Items Packed: 577* estimated based on 70 items per cart and number of carts
Items Picked: 545 (I did 297 in the third quarter which is a lot of for me…tight pick paths)
Lee: 19,180 steps (8.47 miles)
Items Packed: Lee did 1 carts and then they put him on singles. It was a lot, frankly I don’t understand why they would have him do anything else.
Items Picked: 468 (All I do is walk back and forth, incredibly loose pick path. Getting really tired of the pointless walking.)
Interesting Item Picked: So many today. That’s why I love Q mod so much. One was a Cozmo Robot, which was in a very heavy duty box and did NOT look like a toy. According to the box it has a complex artificial intelligence. I don’t know what the deal with this thing is, but my brain felt it was important and at $200 it is not cheap. I also picked tons of these SEDY magnetic wrist bands that allow someone working on cars, etc to put screws, nuts right on their wrist. It was touted as the perfect Christmas for Dad and I will say I thought it was pretty genius when I looked at it. That being said I have no idea if something like this actually works, so I will let Lee jump in and give his thoughts. (Looks very handy to have. You should get me one. – Lee) But the absolute 100% winner, the thing that stopped me in the aisle and made me exclaim “COOL” is the Kong Wobbler. It was a large, heavy rubber treat dispenser for dogs and it looked like it would hold up to even Hurley’s chewing. I know many puppies who might need this for Christmas! I’m not kidding this thing looked really cool and is a steal online for $15.
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