First Time at Amazon Day 35 – 36

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. 

Day 35

In case I am not mentioning it enough, by our last day of the 50 hour week, my body is really hurting. I don’t know how those people who are working 60 hours are doing it, because at this point I would give anything to take an extra day off. It’s not just losing the OT money though that keeps me going in, because they are also having an attendance raffle.  If you have perfect attendance the first week, you can win $100. If you have perfect attendance the first and second week, it’s $200. And perfect attendance three weeks in a row is $300. That’s pretty serious money just for clocking in. The first week two work kampers I actually know won it.  It’s a pretty smart way to keep people coming into work in the home stretch. Plus I keep telling myself we are almost done, which does help.  It’s not only us that are stressed though, the pressure is being felt all along the supply chain.  We know someone who has a husband that works full-time at UPS and they are working crazy hours to keep up with Amazon. We also have a friend who is working seasonally for UPS and he just wrote a terrific detailed description of what that job is like.  It’s really good, you should check it out.

My point is that the concept of Amazon Prime and two day shipping sounds great, and usually it is, but the seasonal stress it puts on the distribution system is pretty amazing. It never really occurred to me before doing this.  I just liked getting my stuff by Christmas and was always annoyed when the last minute shipping wasn’t available. I had no idea how much went behind that click of a button, and if nothing else, I am grateful for all I have learned in this job.  I am not kidding about that.  I have learned a ton about process that I am not sure I could have learned any other way, and I am 100% sure I will be a better process analyst going forward because of it. It’s a major silver lining for me.

(When I was in the Air Force I worked for the military version of the postal service. For part of that time I supervised mail transfer between commercial airlines and a military air mail terminal, and for part of it I worked at the air mail terminal itself, about an hour from Heathrow airport near London. I don’t know how it’s done now, it’s been 30 years, but back then all mail between the US and overseas military bases was transported via commercial airlines, and the carrier depended on where it was coming from/going to. So the mail would come into Heathrow from the US via these six or seven airlines, and would be transported by truck to the air mail terminal, where these big 70lb bags of letters and small packages would be sorted according to what base in England it was headed to, then a smaller truck from each base would pick it up, and drop off mail going out, and then those bags would be sorted according to where they were going in the world, and the truck would take it to Heathrow.

Pretty simple process handled almost exclusively by a bunch of kids not even 21 yet. And it happened day after day after day after day. And that was just tiny old England, there were other terminals all over the world, much larger ones. The Frankfort one was legendary for the volume it processed through western Europe. This was still the cold war, after all, and we had lots of bases there. I was always amazed at how smoothly it all worked, and how much volume there was. Every day the equivalent of a 50′ semi trailer would go back and forth. Once it was all sorted out into the various containers for each base, the piles of mail sacks would vary in size based on the size of the military base, anywhere from 1 or 2 bags for a tiny installation, to 30 or 40 for a large base with fighters and bombers. And then I experienced my first Christmas season. For two months, there would be two semi trailers ever day instead of one, going in both directions. Sometimes three. Every day. For weeks. We had scores of temporary help from bases all over the world to handle the volume. The larger bases had piles of mail bags that would literally be stacked 20 feet high in pyramids, and took several people working in a vertical chain gang to pass the sacks from one to another to build these pyramids.

It was mind boggling, a truly staggering amount of mail being moved every day. I would stand there and look at the terminal when it was full and just shake my head in amazement at how a single envelope with a Christmas card in it would multiply to the point where it created a stack that big. I remember thinking how important it was, what we were doing, that every one of those envelopes was something special between two people separated by thousands of miles and multiple time zones, in a time when there was no internet, no email, no texting, and overseas phone calls cost a fortune, and every time I would sling a bag of those envelopes to or from the conveyor belt I was a small part of the chain that brought someone a moment of home, a bit of good news, a picture to be cherished, or a little extra money. It was pretty damn cool. Of course, this is all just leggings and beanies and gift cards, but it’s kind of the same thing. Anyway, Merry Christmas. – Lee)

Our last night of the week started out a little rough.  I felt a bit like I had the flu (tired and achy all over) but it was just being tired.  They had fruit again on break, which was nice, and that and a cup of coffee at lunch really perked me up.  The tight pick paths helped as well, and I spent quite a bit of time in every area I was in.  I also had a stretch where I was going in right after the stowers and not only were my items right on top (love that) but the bins themselves looked really great.  I picked an entire tote of beanies at one point which was pretty easy and fun and in general my whole mood lightened. One thing that happened throughout the day that was interesting was several of the locals came up and talked about when we were leaving.  Then they started talking to me about their long term plans (which usually included leaving the area and going someplace else) and I was happy to listen.  I know from first hand experience how hard it is to leave the place you grew up in, but it’s a big wide world out there and certainly there is more economic opportunity in other areas of the country.  I’m used to people being curious about what we do and how we did it, so it didn’t surprise me that since we are leaving folks wanted to talk about our lifestyle, and like I said I am always happy to talk about it.

Lee had an interesting day, because for some reason he was moved to the A building.  No idea why, but after weeks in the E mods he was suddenly in a new section and it took him a while to get acclimated.  Probably a good thing, since he had something else to focus on and he got to pick some non-apparel items he had never seen before which is always fun.  Speaking of that, I am enjoying my time with non-apparel but it is definitely taking a toll on my body.  More concrete floors, poorer lighting, and lots more stairs, but overall I am willing to pay that price for the variety.  I was on one floor though where at least 15 light bulbs were out and I felt strongly enough about it that I felt I needed to say something.  The fulfillment center is having a large capital project to replace lighting next year, but in the interim some sections are really dark.  I talked to the shift manager first, but when I was told an outside company replaced the bulbs I felt I needed to do more.  I was on my way to the Voice of the Associate board, where you can write down concerns, when I happened across the operations manager.  I was surprised he was there so late, but when I asked to speak to him he immediately stopped what he was doing and came over.

I made my case that poor lighting was both a quality and a safety issue and he took notes while I was speaking to him.  I used my best professional tone, which seemed to get his attention, and ended with the statement that I could live with issues caused by bad ballasts (they would be upgraded with the project), but if it was just a burned out bulb, “For God’s sake just replace the light bulb.” He smiled when I said that and repeated it with me, and I felt pretty good about saying something and being heard.  Once again I will say the management team here is really great about that and I had his undivided attention while I was talking to him. Hopefully he will follow up the conversation with some action, but if nothing else I tried and expressed my concerns in a constructive way. So things ended up good, but I am really glad we have a couple of days off and then one more week and we are done!!

Tracy:   20,108 steps ( 8.88 miles) (estimated based on 85% of Lee)
Items Picked:  839

Lee:    23,657 steps ( 10.45 miles)
Items Picked: 753

Interesting Item Picked:  The funniest thing I picked was a Belly Stuffer. It was a large fake belly and the box said good for “beer bellies, Santa suits, and fake pregnancies.”  What an odd combination lol.  That’s not my winner for the day, it is definitely a beanie.  I picked a tote full of this particular kind and I have to say they are really cute. I seriously think that for the rest of my life whenever I see a beanie I will think of Amazon so it’s only fair that they made it into my top picks. 

Days Off

We spent Friday going to the Jim Beam Distillery with Kelly and Bill (which I wrote a separate post on), but Lee also squeezed in some time to start packing up.  Towards the end of the day we all learned our last day would be Thursday, which was great for us because it was a regular day.  It meant one more 50 hour week, but we were fine with that especially when we learned we had earned 5 hours of paid time off.  After 320 hours you get 5 and we needed to make sure that we took it prior to our very last day.  We must have just squeaked in, because we didn’t think we were going to earn it, and I decided I wanted to take it Tuesday evening, because it would break up the week.  One of the nice things about paid time off is you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission.  You just schedule it on the HR hub and then write it on a board when you go in (if you are leaving early one day) and that’s it. I like this method very much because it takes the supervisors personal preferences out of it.  You earn the time and you take it when you want.  In a company this size that is the way it should be.

Saturday we got our mail in the morning and I had a present from my oldest daughter Kyrston. It was a hard copy of Eat Real Vietnamese Food Cookbook, that I mentioned in an earlier post.  Not only did she read my post, but immediately sent me the cookbook for Christmas.  I really am a very lucky Mom and was so touched by her thoughtfulness. And I plan on trying every single recipe in that book and NOT cutting it up!  Love you sweetie!

Lee spent the rest of the morning packing things up and then 3pm we met up with Karen and Al at Brothers BBQ.  They are longtime friends of Bill and Nancy’s but since they work night shift we have not been able to see them outside of work.  They suggested this time for lunch/dinner and the restaurant because they think it is the best restaurant in town.  I’ll be honest I had my doubts, especially since I am not a hug fan of BBQ to begin with,  but was I pleasantly surprised.  I had The Dude (a mixture of pulled pork and brisket in a sweet sauce and it was really really good.  Plus the conversation was fantastic.  Al and Karen have been working RVers for 7 years and we spent lots of time talking to them about their experiences.  They gave us lots of great information on how they have been traveling and we absolutely learned a lot from them.  And since our friend Nancy really wanted us to spend time with them (as much as possible I try to do what Nancy tells me to do), I was so glad we managed to spend time with them before we left.

Lee (who is always annoyed when I make him wait to eat to take a picture), Al, Karen, Bill, and Kelly

My sandwich was really really good

Day 36

The day started off really great.  I was feeling very peppy, mainly because the end was in site, and with two days off I felt pretty good.  And two really nice things happened. First off, I was passing by one of the managers and noticed someone had left a tote with items in it on the bottom of a cart.  I stopped and put the tote on the conveyor belt and the manager called me over.  He thanked me for doing that and said he really appreciated how positive my attitude was  and then gave me a $10 gift card.  It was very sweet of him and I appreciated his taking the time to do that.  As I’ve said before, I think being a nice and positive person is important regardless of how my day is going and it was really touching that he recognized that.  Not that long later we were buying our items with our Cambellsville cash and unfortunately they were out of the coffee mug I wanted.  I went outside on break, but when I came back in one of the HR people caught me and told me she had found a few mugs in the back.  Not only did she remember that I wanted one, but personally went back and grabbed them for us and we got the last two with handles.  Again very sweet, and it was so nice of her to go to that kind of trouble,

With those two experiences fresh in my head I really wanted to take a moment and answer the question I have been getting from most of the full time employees I have met.  They all want to know if we are coming back, and although I will answer this question fully in my recap and summary, my short answer is: probably not.  I like the people here very much and I am impressed by the managers in particular.  I like the overall atmosphere, the way we are treated, and the campground is just fine.  I don’t even mind the work most days and appreciate all the little things they do to try and keep it as fresh as possible.  What I can’t handle is the pain.

I’m not a completely stoic person when it comes to pain, but I have had three children (one of which was with no drugs at all), so it’s not like I am not familiar with it. But every day we have worked (and most of our off days) my feet have hurt pretty bad.  I expected some level of discomfort.  I have done my stretches, taken Advil, and paid particular attention to any area that is bothering me and changed my work habits to help.  So I have avoided the strains and sprains that many people have experienced.  What I haven’t been able to do anything about is my feet.  They just hurt.  And since the pain is not muscular there isn’t much I can do it about it.  At this point I understand what is causing it, but walking on concrete is part of the deal, and even on those days that I am mainly on upper floors they still hurt.  Most days I start the day with them hurting, end the day with me hobbling along, and I go to bed hurting to the point where it frequently wakes me up at night.

To net $10 an hour I am not OK with that. Many people are.  Many people are older than me and seem to be handling it just fine, and the full time employees all say that “you get used to it.”  Maybe so, but it’s been over a month now, and I’m not used to it.  I’ve taken some flack in the comment section about how we take these jobs and then complain about them and that’s really been bothering me. First I wanted to say, I’m doing everything I can to not let my attitude spill over onto the people I work with, and it appears to be successful as you can see from above.  But more importantly, you as readers should know that this experience has been colored by that pain.  I try to break things down as objectively as I can, and as much as possible provide a balanced view, but it’s hard for me  to focus on the positive when I am hurting.

So let me summarize my thought process.  Lots of people like it here and come back year after year.  I like the people, especially the managers.  Almost everyone has been very nice to us.   The work is OK and there are opportunities to try different things.  The money we make will barely cover our expenses and will not cover our costs to get here.  My feet hurt all the time.  For me, most days, the last item trumps everything else.  If we were making more money I would probably feel differently. If the work was more interesting I would probably feel differently. But on balance that is where I am at.  Simply put (and the short answer I have given people who ask) it isn’t enough money for how hard the work is.  I feel slightly embarrassed saying that to people who do this day in and day out for a living and I always add (and mean it) that I have an incredible amount of respect for those people who do this for a living.  But I am too old for this.  And again feel slightly embarrassed because there are many work kampers much older than me doing this. So I start to think I am a big wus and then I stand up to get some more coffee, wince in pain, hobble to the coffe pot, and think no…for me it’s not worth it.  So to the critics out there I don’t know what to else to tell you.  As my kids say, “You do you, boo.”

Tracy:   27,909 steps ( 11.65 miles) (Lee found my fitbit…hooray…it was actually in the truck)
Items Picked: 856

Lee:    17,807 steps ( 7.86 miles)  Lee got to go to pack in the fourth quarter
Items Picked: 812

Interesting Item Picked:  I ran across an item that I know everyone has someone in their life that needs this.  It was a windup poop emoji toy that poops out little pieces of candy.  I know, it’s silly, but it made me laugh and seriously you know someone who would love this. 

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20 thoughts on “First Time at Amazon Day 35 – 36

  1. Hey Tracy, I appreciate your honesty about the pain and discomfort sprinkled in with all of the good stuff about your jobs. We are fortunate enough to be able to do mostly volunteer work, although occasionally I think it would be nice to pad the budget a little, but the physical limitations are something both of us have to consider. Have a Merry Christmas.

  2. Great info. I, for one appreciate your candor as I think most people do. If I wanted a glossy version, I might be able to read a brochure.
    Hang in there, almost done. 😀

  3. My only thought is that for workamping, $10.00 an hour plus free site is at the high end for workamping jobs. When it comes to complaints, I think that will most affect those that do the work, and it would come across in a negative way to them. Imagine in your old world the job you did, I do it for 12 weeks, write up that this is something I would not want to do again. It is pretty standard for someone with a longer work history to have lots of advice on how things would work better yet not understand the big picture when it comes to the processes being used. I had heard that Amazon was VERY physical and would never choose that for myself unless it was that or not have food on the table. I can also assure you that many people work even harder for that wage of less to survive in our country today.
    I think, Trace, that you had an idea that somehow the rate of pay determined how difficult the job would be, and in truth, those working the hardest are often those being paid the least when it comes to physical labor. Most people doing these jobs do it to support themselves and their families and don’t see the jobs as part of the identity. I think white collar professionals more often attach part of their identity to their jobs.
    And, I totally sympathize on the sore feet! Just being on concrete for a short time leaves me suffering both feet and leg pain, so anymore growing older, I’d have to be pretty hard up for cash to do that.
    I do hope you find your niche. Have a safe and happy holiday season!

    • Thanks Cathy and you make some excellent points. I did think that frankly and I should have known better. That being said, people have options and those like us that can follow the work have more options than most.

  4. Oh how I can empathize with your sore feet! How about the possibility of treating yourself to a massage after you finish up at Amazon?
    I appreciate your honesty in your blog entries. I knew from reading Kelly’s Amazon experience last year that Amazon was not a workamping job for me.
    Hang in there and hoping it doesn’t take too long for your feet to get back to pain free!

  5. First off, thank you for the shout out, Tracy! The UPS seasonal job has been a real treat for me, especially after coming off last year at Amazon. Having spent my entire career in a manufacturing environment…on concrete floors…I totally understand the pain factor. You also seem to have come away with the same feeling we had for the people of Campbellsville. They are good salt-of-the-earth folks that we were glad to have been able to know. It was a great experience, but I prefer to put that one in the ‘been-there-done-that’ file. Kudos to those who enjoy it and do it year after year.

    Lee, I absolutely loved your description of the mail in England. It’ll put a little spring in my step this week. 🙂

  6. So glad you were able to spend some time with Al and Karen!! Love your honest appraisal of your job at Amazon. You tried it and it doesn’t appear to be a winner for you & Lee. But at least now you know. Since you try very hard to do what tell you to do , which BTW you should….Have a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS and A HAPPY NEW YEAR:o)))

  7. I remember seeing video (I think, it could have been still) of the mail facility in England where Lee worked. GIANT pile of mail bags, all a weird maroon color. I remember now it was video Lee shot a bunch about the whole process and even put the camcorder on a conveyor belt at one point I think.

    Tracy ignore the people who complain about your complaining. Tell them to heed their own feedback and STFU!

  8. Tracy,
    I can totally relate to the aching feet, especially the hobbling around by the end of the day and nighttime pain part. It’s not like a little pain, it’s almost debilitating. That is the ONE reason why I knew I could never do the Amazon thing. My problem was greatly improved with custom orthotic inserts plus only wearing good (read, expensive) shoes. Naot is usually my go to shoe, stylish and works very well with the inserts. While it’s hard to swallow spending $120-$150 on a pair of shoes (luckily they are well made and last a long time), the pain relief is priceless.

    Thank goodness you are on the home stretch, hang in there. Casey and I wish you safe travels and best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Hope to see you soon.

  9. You know your very honest comments on all your work camping jobs was one of the factors that convinced me to search out a work from home job when my old job disappeared. I’m still very happy that I made that decision, it was the right one for me at that time and I still feel I would make the same decision today.

    Your honesty and willingness to share the financial / labor trade-off is appreciated.

    Wishing you the best as you finish out your obligation. Just curious, what’s next between this job and the summer job in Oregon??

    • Gate guarding in Texas hopefully. Thanks for saying that Ruth. I think about that once in awhile, how are paths started out similar and then diverged. As you always say there are many many ways to live this lifestyle. Watching your journey has impacted me as well. Thanks again for the kind words and your constant support as we figure this out.

  10. I know what you mean Tracy about your feet hurting! I waited tables for the first time when I was 40 in a family business. It was along way from the kitchen to the far dining room on cement floors!!! I hobbled out of bed each morning barely able to walk. It seems like when your feet hurt like that, everything hurts!!! Finally found some shoes called Z-coils and they were a lifesaver!! Within two weeks my feet were a 100 percent better. I admire you guys for trying all of these different jobs, not sure my nerves could take starting a new job all the time. You have handled it with such a positive attitude!!! Hope you and Lee can enjoy some time off. Merry Christmas to both of you!! We are headed to FL (not without incident.. LOL). To spend Christmas with my parents and to help my Dad with my Moms care. Will be in Largo, I believe you stayed in that area when Lee was going to school. Take care and safe travels!!

    • Hi Teresa!! Great to hear from you. We loved the weather in Largo. Make sure you watch lots of sunsets at the beach 😄. It is nerve wracking starting all these new jobs all the time. Thanks for recognizing that. Have a wonderful holiday and I really hope we will be able to meet on the road in the future.

  11. Have been following along with you since he beginning and thank you for all the honest helpful posts. Lee, my husband was stationed in the UK and that is where I met him 30 years ago. It is quite possible that you handled our letters and packages to each other. The letters I still have to this day. Thanks for everything.

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