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.
For those who are only interested in the summary of our experience at Amazon, we have provided this post. It is important to say that our experience is a subjective one, and is based on one season, in one fulfillment center. Many people we met had a different experience so please keep in mind your mileage will certainly vary based upon the job you pick, the hours you work, the fulfillment center you are in, and the season you work in. If you would like to start at the beginning and read the daily detailed posts of the experience you can start here. So let’s get started!
# of Days in Campbellsville – One of the nice things about Amazon if they have a truly wide variety of start dates (anywhere from late August to early December) and are pretty flexible with when you start. This year the earliest start date was later than in previous years, which of course had an impact on how much money people made. Since it was our first season and we had concerns about how much we would like the job we chose to start on October 30th, and with two non-working days on the front end we were there for 56 days. Most of the people we met started earlier than us so keep that in mind when you look at income potential.
# of Days Worked – The first week both of us worked a 6 day week, and every week after that we worked a 5 day work week. The good news is we were able to get overtime consistently, because last year we heard from several people that they were only able to get a few hours of overtime throughout the season. The bad news was the hours were available to work 60 hours a week, but we never felt that we were physically able to do that. We ended up working 40 days which resulted in 377 paid hours each. Of those hours 64 were overtime and the rest was straight time.
Income Generated – Our gross income earned (including the extra $1 per regular hour and $1.50 per overtime hour we received as an end of season bonus) was $11,825. On the surface that is a nice chunk of money, but I want to break that down a little bit. Taxes in Kentucky are on the high side. We claimed zero exemptions and between the 1% county tax, 5% state tax, and federal, they withheld around 25% in taxes, and more on the bonus check. From a cash flow perspective this was significant. Most our our work has taken place in states with little or no taxes, and we were surprised when our weekly pay checks came in at $495 each for a 50 hour week. Ultimately our combined net income for the job was $7953.50, which was the number we used to determine whether the job was worth it, in our view. To give you some basis of comparison we netted around $410 per week at our summer camp hosting job and were only working 34 hours per week. So the extra 6 hours of straight time and 10 hours of overtime each week at Amazon, netted us only about $85 per week each.
Physical Exertion – The physical exertion of our job as Pickers was pretty intense. When picking we walked on average 27,240 steps or roughly 12 miles each shift. Most of that walking was on concrete, which for me caused some major issues. In order to combat this I invested in new shoes ($64), special pain reliever foot cream ($20), epsom salts ($8), compression socks ($20), several types of sole inserts ($50), and went through an entire bottle of Advil ($18) for a total of around $180. These items helped me avoid planters fasciitis, but didn’t stop my feet from hurting. The pain started a couple of days in and didn’t stop until nearly a week after we left, except for the week that we worked solely in pack. For the record we also walked much less while we worked in pack, averaging roughly 3.25 miles a day. We also experienced a variety of other pains and minor strains while we were there, but thankfully avoided any injury that required us to miss work. Those types of injuries were somewhat common though, as the pace of the work was somewhat unrelenting. In contrast, Lee held up very well physically. We were concerned about his back, which has given him problems in the past, but aside from a few minor aches and pains he held up very well. There was also an upside to all that activity as Lee lost 8 pounds and I lost 5 while we were there. My legs (calves in particular) also gained some great definition from all that walking.
Work Pace – More than any other job we have had the pace of this job was relentless. Unlike most jobs, where slow periods allow for extra breaks or working slower, this job required near constant movement. When the pick volume was low, the computer would lengthen your walking routes, actually adding more steps to the day. There were the occasional slow periods where we could move a little slower, but there never was a time when we received an extra break or were allowed to sit down. This is in direct contradiction to most work kamping jobs we have had and the 10 solid hours on my feet was tough for me. The pace was also set by a bar on a hand held scanner. Although as Camperforce we were only required to do 85% of the productivity of the regular employees our pacing bar did not take that into account. So you have to deliberately slow yourself down and although many people were successful at doing this, neither Lee nor I seemed to be. We routinely worked at 130% of the daily productivity metrics which resulted in an average of 865 picked items per shift.
In order to really get a feel for the physical toll the job took on me you will need to read the detailed posts, but I consider myself in decent shape and this job kicked my butt! Neither one of us felt capable of working a 60 hour week and aside from a few dinners and one trip to a bourbon distillery, we didn’t have the energy to explore the area. That was a real disappointment to me. I was very excited about working a job where we were near friends and had days off to explore the area, but that didn’t happen. Mammoth Cave National Park was very close by and we had several nice weather days we could have gone, but I couldn’t face any additional walking.
Weather/Campgrounds – Speaking of weather, for the most part we got very lucky there. Kentucky is a bit of a mixed bag weather-wise this time of year and we had a good season. Lots of sunshine, minimal rain, and it didn’t get really cold until the very end. Temperatures were below freezing though towards the end and we had a couple of very cold days. The temperatures inside the facility were mostly good. The management team tried very hard to regulate temperatures and although there were hot and cold spots in the warehouse it was much better than working outside would have been. The campgrounds were also very nice. They had several to choose from and depending on your personal preferences, there seemed to be something for everyone. Our campground was right across the street from where we worked and had excellent 50 amp electric. They also did a great job with our mail and the campground was nice and quiet throughout the week.
Quality of Work – More than any other category this is very subjective so please keep that in mind as you read my thoughts. I thought the management team was excellent, and liked all of the people we worked with. Likewise our experiences with the locals was largely positive and we found the small town atmosphere very appealing. The company absolutely understands work kampers and did a nice job of working with our particular constraints throughout the season. The problem for us was the work itself. In our particular job, there was a ton of time to think and very little opportunity to socialize. This is different in the different jobs, but in picking you are largely doing your own thing throughout the 10 hour day. For some people this was a huge advantage, but for others like Lee is was pretty unpleasant. The atmosphere of micro management can also be a major problem for some people. I like rules and am fine with them as long as I understand upfront what needs to be done, but I have never worked for a company that was this rigid. They have reports for almost everything, and any time your stats or behavior deviate from the norm, it’s likely someone will be talking to you about that. They have a points system for attendance (clocking in and out is regulated by minutes) and daily reports on productivity stats. Although these rules are relaxed somewhat for Camperforce, the overall atmosphere is one in which you are closely monitored. Add to that mostly boring job tasks and the physical exertion and this can be a bad combination for some people. Again, some people are totally fine with the atmosphere, but others struggle, and it is not uncommon for people to start the job and then leave prior to the end of the season. If you leave before the end you generally do not get your bonus, which makes the job much less profitable.
Safety – This is one area that Amazon does very well in my opinion. We had daily meetings before our shift and after lunch and they always talked about safety tips. The facility is well marked with different types of safety tape and there are areas you cannot be in without a safety vest on. Any time there was a safety issue, they took great pains to discuss the incident with us and more than any company I have ever worked for, seemed committed to providing a safe environment.
So what are my thoughts overall? I liked the people and the management team very much and spending time with other work kampers was very nice. I think their Camperforce program is very strong and appreciated all the extras they provided like free T-Shirts, gift cards (we received $70 worth), Amazon logo items, and a couple of free lunches. At the end of the day though, I just don’t feel we made enough money for the work that we did. Coming from the west we spent $1,000 in gas to get there and then another $800 to get back to Texas, and we didn’t make enough to cover our monthly bills and pay for the gas, let alone put money back in the bank. The work was physically hard, it took a mental toll that neither one of us was prepared for, and ultimately we didn’t have the energy to explore the area. Experiences do vary wildly though. We met people who were returning for their seventh season and we met others who only lasted a few days. So my recommendation is that if you are on the East Coast already, and you were looking to supplement your income, it might be a good choice for you. It’s just very important that you are honest with yourself about what you can handle physically and be prepared to move on if it is more than you bargained for.
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