First Time at Amazon Day 15 and Day 16

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.

Day 15

So today went pretty well.  I wore a pair of Lee’s Gold Toe socks and they seemed to really help.  Or my feet are just hardening up, either way I was grateful for it because I went the first three quarters without being in significant pain.  I was tired though, especially because I had lots of stairs the third and fourth sessions. Oh and I forgot  to mention we  got  free  Camperforce Tshirts as well, which was a nice  little  perk.  I should mention  though  that  we did have our first “counseling” session by our supervisor (which  involved a 5 minute chat in an aisle), because we both showed up on a report that we had put too many things in the amnesty bins.  Our supervisor is a very nice and earnest young man, and he was extremely respectful, but the conversation was interesting.  The bins have been overstuffed by the stowers in recent days, and many times when you open a drawer above you a “waterfall” of items falls out.  Seriously they were so jammed in that it was like a spring pushed off and socks, gloves and other small items rained down.

At this point we have two choices.  Shove the stuff back in the bin so the next person has the same thing, or take the items on the floor and put them in the amnesty bin.  In serious cases, Lee and I were both using the bin, in the hopes that the person who re-stocked them would put them in another bin.  Apparently though a report shows who was in that bin last so amnesty is not really amnesty after all.  That didn’t surprise me, but they really need to rename the bin if they are going to do reports and then talk to people about it when they use them.  Our poor supervisor wanted to believe that it was a misunderstanding on our part, but I was honest about the fact that it was intentional.  His solution was to shove the stuff back in the bin, and since I hate ending up on reports that will be how I handle it going forward, but really that’s not a great policy.  The internal customer of the stowers process is the pickers, but we have absolutely no way to provide feedback. At least using the amnesty bin got some folks attention and we were told that there would be additional training for some of the stowers, many of which are also new, so that’s a good thing. If I worked here full time though I would definitely have a problem with that long-term as there appears to me no checks in place for stowers just ramming things in there which costs us more time and ultimately impacts efficiency.

On a completely different note, I don’t know if I have mentioned this yet but there are absolutely no cell phones in the building. Some people put cell phones in their locker and check them on break but we don’t really want to mess with out lockers so leave them at home. They do have an emergency number, which I gave out to my parents, kids, and brother and sister, in case something happens during the ten hour shift, but we are largely disconnected from what is happening in the world while we are working.

On this particular day I came home and fell into bed without checking my phone and I missed an important message from a friend. That made me angry.  I understand that they sell electronics and for security reasons need to keep outside items to a minimum, but it’s tough being so disconnected.  We had the same thing happen at the beet harvest, by the way.  A close friend had a personal emergency and because of the schedule and physical demands of the job I was completely unaware of it. I’m not sure why this bothers me so much.  I remember living in a world where we weren’t connected to each other constantly, but the social mores have changed, and not getting back to people pretty quickly feels at best, thoughtless, and at worst, rude. And since very few people have a job where they aren’t connected you feel like you want to let every single person know your special circumstance.  I know I am probably worrying about this too much, but all I can say is it really bugs me and is definitely not a plus for this job.

Tracy: 20,088 (8.38 miles)  Somewhere along the way I lost my Fitbit so this wasn’t a complete day.  Luckily someone turned it in and they had it at security on my next shift

Items Picked:  846

Lee:  28,585 steps (12.63 miles)
Items Picked: 924

Interesting Item Picked:  My favorite item of the day was a Glenn from the Walking Dead action figure. I am not a big fan of action figures myself, but I loved the Glenn character and this action figure is one of the best I have ever seen.  It looks exactly like him and even has blood splatter all over it which gives it a truly realistic look.  So for those of you who are still mourning the loss of Glenn (uber fans you know who you are), an action figure might be just what you need to remember him.

(Roasted Turkey hat. Need I say more? There’s still time to get this, in time for Thanksgiving, if you order right away. I wish I had one! – Lee)

 

Days Off

Thankfully we had the next couple of days off, and the timing was great because we got a call on Thursday that our couch was in. You can read about how we ordered it here.  The only day we could pick it up was on Friday so the timing was absolutely perfect.  Unfortunately we had to drive 1-1/2 hours to a Dayton Freight in Bowling Green to pick it up, but the drive was pretty.  And we stopped along the way to get some McDonald’s and a McRib.  Lee loves the McRib, and he got pretty excited eating it as you can see.

Personally I don’t get it, but Lee loves them

When we arrived at Dayton freight they didn’t quite know what to do with us.  Ultimately they used a forklift and loaded the pallet into our truck, which had a giant cardboard box strapped to it.  Lee then ratchet strapped the pallet to the truck since it was too long for us to close the tailgate.  I was nervous driving back, but we had no issues and ultimately we arrived at the campground.  There was really nothing wrong with our original couch and we weren’t sure what to do with it, so we asked the owner of the campground if she would like it for her rec room.  Thankfully she was glad to take it, so we dissembled the love seat (to get it out the door) and place it outside.  Then Bill came over and helped us move the new couch into the RV, which was a little tough because it actually came in three pieces.

Lee was a little surprised by that and it didn’t come with any instructions, but he and Bill figured out how to fit it together.  Then as a temporary measure we placed it on our old stand and this is what it looked like. I was really happy with the lighter color and the back support is amazing.  It’s still too large for the space, of course, but when the middle section is down I can get some good airflow, which was a real problem with the old couch.  The cloth is “stiffer” than the ultra leather, which I knew going in, but it will be nice once it gets broken in a bit.  And I can actually lay down on my couch now, which is awesome, because before with the love seat that was too uncomfortable.

Couch with middle section up, with a temporary box from the old couch supporting the front.

Couch with Middle cup holder down and the storage drawer out

At this point Lee called it a night, and we went over to Kelly and Bill’s for dinner.  It was my turn to cook and I was originally going to make a pot roast when the news came in about the couch.  Knowing it would take several hours to get the couch set up and the fact that my pot roast is a two stage process, I was trying to figure out what else to cook when Kelly came to the rescue.  She sent me a text that dinner was covered and served us spiral ham, green beans, and hash brown casserole.  WOW!!  What an amazing meal, and so nice of her to take over when she saw I was having a complicated day.  I owe her two dinners now and am definitely making that pot roast as soon as the schedule allows!

The next morning Lee woke up and immediately started in on the couch.  Like the old one, we knew it would hang over some (this is the only way to fit a reclining couch in that space), so it needed to be screwed down into the slide.  Then he measured and after some discussion went to buy the materials for a new box to go underneath it.  We talked about having a platform that stuck out a little more for people to put their feet on, but ultimately decided we wouldn’t like how that worked in the small space.  Then we discussed how we were going to cover it and Lee had a great idea. If he left the front open, not only would we not need to match the carpet or couch for covering but I would have a place to store my shoes.  I loved, loved this idea since our current storage is in the bedroom and being too lazy to walk back there I often leave my shoes all over the place, which makes him crazy.

Pretty excited about this! Storage space trumps style every time.

From Left: Harry, Vicki, me, and Lee

After getting the couch mostly done (Lee still needs to secure the base), we watched Wind River, which was a really great movie and went to dinner at Colton Steakhouse with Harry and Vicki. We originally met them at an RV-Dream gathering in Quartzsite two years ago and just really liked them from our first meeting.  We’ve followed their travels over the last couple of years and were very excited to get to know them better in Kentucky. Vicki has maintained her corporate job the entire time they have been on the road, and despite being officially retired Harry has had a series of work kamping jobs.  His attitude is “she’s working, so I’m working” which I absolutely adore, and I was very interested in learning about how they managed their schedule. The first year that we were on the road I worked a corporate job and Lee went to school and did some freelance work, but we have never tried corporate with work kamping and that is absolutely a direction I would like to explore. So I pounded them with questions, poor Harry barely got to eat his dinner lol, and they were kind enough to answer them all.  There are some people you just immediately click with, and Harry and Vicki are definitely that for us, so we’re looking forward to getting to know them better in the future.  I promise I won’t ask so many questions next time!

Day 16

Feet felt pretty good again.  I am definitely thinking it is the long gold-toed socks so sticking with those for sure.  I’ve been wanting to talk about colors for a while, so today I am going to tackle that.  One of the best ways of finding an item quickly in a bin is to look for colors.  If there are multiple items with the same color (black is a pain), then you have to look at clothing type or brand name, but the simplest and easiest is often color.  Unfortunately, the names for colors that are used in these descriptions are wide and varied.  I consider myself an educated person and remember fondly my first 100 crayon box with the built-in sharpener, but many of these names make me stop and pause.  Which to me sort of defeats the whole purpose.  If they have selected a color name that you really have to think about maybe they should have gone with something simpler.  It certainly would make the picker’s job easier.  Keep in mind, that you are tired and in a hurry when your brain is trying to translate these colors and it’s not always easy. So let’s see how you would do.

These aren’t too hard:  Mint (light green); Olive (dark green); Plum (dark purple); Navy (dark blue); Ivory (off-white); Nude (pinkish-tan); Burgundy (dark red); Charcoal (dark grey); Grape (purple);  and Eggplant (deep purple).

These are a little tougher:  Teal (blue/green); Bamboo (light tan); Aqua (greenish blue); Wine (dark red); Coral (bright orange); Watermelon (orangish red); seafoam (light green); Lepoard (tan/brown/orange); Oatmeal (light brown); Champagne (light gold); Royal (bright blue); Pewter (dark gray); Indigo (dark blue); and Sage (green).

These ones really stumped me mainly because no one color immediately came to mind when I first read it:  Sierra (reddish brown); Orchid (pink); Raspberry (purple); Grenadine (orangish red); Lupine (light purple); Coral (bright orange); Egret (white); Cayenne (brownish red); Fuchsia (bright pink); Heather (light gray; Cinder (gray); Natural (off-white); and Punch (orangish-red).

And my personal favorites:  Melange (which is a combination of colors), Confetti (lots of bright colors) and Fairy tale (which was a bright, shiny Cinderella pink).

In all fairness I think the vendors are the ones that select the colors, but the more exotic ones are really a pain to figure out in the few seconds you have and in the case of many of the items marketed (versus manufactured because almost all of the items are made in foreign countries) by Chinese companies the descriptions make no sense.  Whether that is a language issue or a cultural one, I have no idea, but the important thing the is the lack of a good description slows the process down.

Tracy: 27,202 steps (11.34 miles)

Items Picked:  738

Lee:  31,812 steps (14.05 miles)
Items Picked: 866

Interesting Item Picked: One of the things I have been picking lately are vinyl records.  It’s kind of cool that people still buy vinyl and the neatest one I saw was The Rat Pack Live at the Sands. That’s not my pick though, because we don’t have a record player. What we do have is a tent and I saw this cool Duro lantern that you can disassemble easily and also use as a hanging light.  Seemed like it would work well for us. 

(You’ll be the best dressed guy at any holiday party this year in your Santa Tuxedo. Red “velvet” with white faux fir trim.  Seriously. Just look at this thing. It’s spectacular. I would swap out the lame necktie for a bow tie, though.- Lee)

 


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First Time at Amazon: Day 4 – Day 6

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.  

We had some time this weekend to explore the area, but I found myself just wanting to relax.  It’s been such a long time since we had a weekend off and I really wanted to just enjoy it.  We did make a Sam’s Club run with Bill and Kelly, and bought a bunch of different snacks for the next couple of months.  Small packs of peanuts, Slim Jims, and crackers will all fit in our clear fanny packs and are perfect for a little protein kick mid-shift.  We also stopped and tried out a new Chinese buffet, which was OK but nothing that special.  The company was great though, and we really enjoyed catching up with our friends.

Saturday, Kelly had set up am RVillage event for Camperforce people at Green River State Park, and we drove over to check that out.  The state park is really beautiful, right on a gorgeous lake, and we reconnected with Harry and Vicky, and met some new people, which was nice before we started our full shifts.  You do “meet” people in the aisles when you are working on occasion, and the more friendly faces the better, I think.  Despite the beauty of the campground we are glad we chose our current RV park.  The state park only has 30 amp and a honey wagon for grey/black water tank dumps, and although it really was beautiful, having strong 50 amp and full hookups was worth giving up the nature for us.  Everyone is different though, and it is nice that the State Park is an option for the Camperforce folks.   It adds about 14 minutes to the drive to/from work, but for many the setting would totally be worth it.

The lake was huge, curving around the campground and there were lots of boaters on the water on Saturday

The fall colors were really pretty, this picture doesn’t do them justice

Harry, Lee and Bill chatting

Oh, and on a side note, our RV friends Sue and Jonathan are back in Korea, and met up with my daughter Kay. She had a great time on her “play date” as she called it, and they all really enjoyed each other’s company. How cool is that? RV friends are the absolute best!

 

Day 4

I’ll be honest, I was pretty nervous when I woke up in the morning.  It wasn’t about my mental ability to do the job, but rather whether I could handle it physically.  We had jumped right in and signed up for Voluntary OT on Sunday, and although they cancelled the mandatory OT our voluntary shift was still a go.  And that was a good thing, frankly.  We are here to make money, and who knows how long OT will be available, so we wanted to take advantage of the opportunities when they came.  We were actually hoping to sign up for an additional 5 hours at the end of the week and Lee and I decided to stagger those shifts so that we would both get some alone time in the RV.  Unfortunately when we went to the portal we got a strange error message so we will need to speak to someone when we go in today. After all the training and talking, I would just like to get it started.  I’m a “rip the band-aid off” kind of girl and the sooner I knew what I was dealing with, the better. It’s also really humid today (85%) and I toyed with the idea of wearing shorts, but it got cooler as the day wore on and ultimately I decided to stick with jeans at least for the first day.  They do provide knee pads, which I might try out today, but I just want to play it safe clothing-wise until I get a better handle on the job.

So overall it went ok.  I really made sure to pay attention to my body and when an area started to fuss a little I would switch hands, do mini-stretches, or try to adjust my stance.  The only are I couldn’t do this for was my feet.  I bought some Gel insoles. which really helped, but my feet were very sore.  The last hour in particular was pretty tough, but I kept plugging along. You may have noticed that my steps were much less than Lee’s and that was because for most of the night I stayed in the E section and did clothing.  I was actually pretty grateful to be moved into other products at the end of the night, because mentally I was getting a bit sluggish.  For me at least that does matter, because I am a bit dyslexic and start to misread the number/letter combinations when I am not paying attention and end up walking in the wrong direction lol.

Overall I felt I did well, and at one point early in the shift was even out picking Lee.  That was largely a factor of where my picks were and I hit a “hot streak” that had me up around 132 picks an hour at one point.  Although he is moving from place to place a lot faster than me, I think I am pretty good at getting the item out of the bin quickly.  I noticed a pattern where usually the needed item was on top of the pile and many times the right item was the first one I put a hand on which saves a ton of time.  If the needed item is “hiding” in the bottom of the bin, that can really slow the process down, especially if there are numerous items that are the same color, but different sizes.  Speaking of which I honestly don’t know how you could do this job if you were color blind.  Technically it could be done, as you could look at brand names and use the scanner when in doubt, but color is often a great short cut and it would definitely make this job a lot harder.

And I should probably mention thank heavens for the scanners.  I can’t tell you how many times I scanned the wrong item or bin and it beeped at me, which showed me at least how often human error came into play.  Not that long ago bar scanners didn’t exist and I imagine the process times and error rates were much higher. The way it works is we scan the bin and then the item and if either of those things is wrong (I am facing the wrong side of the aisle more times than I would like to admit lol) it beeps at you.  And if you absolutely can’t find the item you  every single thing in the box.  I had to do this a few times when there was no discernible difference between products.  I even came across one poor guy scanning over 50 look-a-like items trying to find the “right one” and definitely felt for him.  Thankfully this situation doesn’t occur very often.  Usually there is enough difference in product it is easy to quickly find the right one without the scanner, but it is nice that you can use it as an option in a pinch.

Tracy: 19,730 steps (8.26 ,miles)
Items picked: 770

Lee: 29,918 steps (13.22 miles)
Items picked: 984

Interesting Item Picked:  Since my daughter Kat likes the interesting item section, I thought I would share something I thought was perfect for her husband Micah.  It was a Minecraft Creeper Fleece Robe and it made me smile as I thought of them.  I also picked an OSU hat and a Philadelphia Eagles jersey that made me think of family and friends, but the robe was the overall winner for the day.

(This is my favorite item of the day: The Sasquatch Bikini Ugly Christmas Sweater. Quantities are limited, so be sure and get yours today! This was a close runner up. Also, I picked a LOT of French maid and “schoolgirl” outfits. So some folks are gonna have a very Merry Christmas! – Lee)

Day 5

There definitely is a cumulative effect on the soreness.  Day 5 was my first 10+ mile day and although I did pretty good in the early parts of the shift towards the end it was a struggle.  There is a certain amount of mind over matter involved at that point, and I try to think to myself (as our friends Bill and Nancy suggested) that this is great hiker trainer.  Still there were lots of groans at the end of the night and we both went to bed pretty quickly. One thing that made it worse, was the number of steps between picks was much longer than yesterday.  We were both traveling from one end of the section to another between picks by the end of the night and ultimately we both received messages that we were out of work towards the end of the night. We weren’t 100% sure what to do in this situation, so we logged out and logged back in a couple of times until more work was in our queue and that’s one thing I do find frustrating and want to talk about, but in order to do so I need to make it very clear that this next part is based on supposition and anecdotal evidence and unfortunately I have no idea how the algorithms work.  They didn’t teach us that in training.

It appears that when work becomes sparse the computer intentionally slows you down.  It does this by sending your picks farther and farther away from each other and even in some cases sending you away from and then back to the same bin to get the same item rather than combining the pick. The idea, I suppose, is from a productivity standpoint it is better to keep people moving than allow everyone to take a break, but it’s hard to keep moving when you see this happening and realize all that extra walking is essentially “busy work.”  To be fair, people are definitely monitoring the situation, because so far every time the routes start to lengthen, pretty quickly the computer tells us VTO (voluntary time off) is available.  People start to take advantage of that, which then puts more work for the rest of us, and eventually things seem to settle back into “normal.” I’ve also noticed this seems to happen right around break time.  As folks start to peel off on break, the route gets much more compressed with picks coming in rapid succession and near each other.  Those last few minutes are a great time to boost stats, because I’ve found I can quickly pick multiple items right before break.

All that being said, I’ve never been a big fan of busy work and I am REALLY not a big fan of it when it adds steps to my day.  When you are picking and get lots of items in rapid succession you get into a rhythm and feel like you are accomplishing something.  For me walking to and fro and barely picking anything is both tiring and a little frustrating. I have to keep reminding myself that I get paid the same no matter what I am doing, but towards the end of the shift that doesn’t help much.  It’s also probably worse because we are in training and by design “locked” into a relatively small area.  Since being “opened up” means adding in walking up and down stairs, which I have no idea how my body will respond to, for now it’s best just to leave it alone.  So far my knees are doing OK.  I have to be really careful to switch out hands and arms because I do start to feel overuse in the left side and both of us are struggling with our hip muscles.

Lee definitely had the worst of it, because for some reason the computer kept sending him back to the same bin where he couldn’t scan the barcode.  There was one bin with Superman underwear that had faded bar codes and he marked it as such, like you are supposed to.  But when we were low on work, it sent him back multiple times and the problem solver hadn’t yet been out to fix the problem. Ultimately he got frustrated because the system wasn’t working the way it was supposed to, so instead he marked the item as “missing”, and then dumped the entire contents of the bin in the “damaged” bin at the end of the aisle.  Afterwards when the scanner sent him to that bin he just ignored it. This story, by the way, had me laughing so hard when he told it to me (gallows humor), especially when he explained the interaction with the nice young girl who was the problem solver.  Eventually she explained to him that when things are rejected a message is sent to the problem solver team who then solve the problem. At one point, she put new bar codes on the items and restored them to the bin, but she couldn’t explain why it kept sending him back to the same bin before the new bar codes were attached. Can I just say every. single. day. he is getting some kind of “special attention”, whereas I barely think they know I exist lol. (I also got yet another long visit from a safety person, who followed me around for about 15 minutes to watch me and asked me a few questions. Like, “Where do you go if there’s a fire?”. I told her I would quickly and calmly leave the building using the nearest exist. When she asked me where the nearest exit was, I told her I had no idea, because there was no signage, but in the event of a fire I would be motivated to find one. I think she made notes that I thought the exit signage was inadequate. She also asked me where I would go in the event of a tornado. I told her I would go to a tornado shelter area. She asked me where they were, and I told her they were under the tornado shelter area signs. She asked me where the nearest one was, so I told her I had no clue, and we walked around a little bit until I saw a sign and pointed to it. I pretty much always feel like I’m in an episode of candid camera. She said I was doing a good job, which was nice, since I’m 200% to goal. But it’s only day 5, and we haven’t started using stairs yet. I fully expect someone to watch me go up and down the stairs to make sure I’m doing that right as well. I’ll make an educated guess and say that they want us to always use the handrails, and hardly ever want us to slide down the banisters. – Lee)

Tracy: 25,552 steps (10.66 miles)
Items picked: 782

Lee: 25,364 (11.2 miles)
Items picked: 837

Interesting Item Picked: It is true you start to zone out and  hardly register what you are picking, but once in a while an item really stands out and actually makes me stop.  Today it was a Chemo Beanie which was a really cute and stylish head wrap for someone who has lost their hair to chemo.  The reason it caught my attention was initially I thought it was just a cool head wrap, and was thrilled when I looked closer to see they were specifically designed for chemo patients and came in all kinds of colors and chic patterns.  The company was founded by a woman who was trying to help two of her aunts who had breast cancer feel better about how they looked and  it’s a wonderful example of  value-based entrepreneurship.  I didn’t know any of that, by the way, until I got home and researched it, but as I said the quality and uniqueness of the product really stood out and made me want to learn more about it.

(Today I picked several Family Holiday Survival Kits. Those made me chuckle.  Also, something in a plain brown box with a title that was so graphic and shocking to see in print on the scanner screen that I actually gasped when I read it. I am not going to link it here, you’ll have to use your imagination. – Lee)

Day 6

Yes, the effects are cumulative, but I’ve also noticed I am having different problem areas every day.  Overall this is a good thing, because as Lee said “pain is weakness leaving the body,” but today’s problem area were the arches of my feet and that was brutal.  If the problem area is muscular there are things you can do…change your stance, use icy hot, more Advil etc., but the pain in the feet to some extent is what it is and the arches in particular were rough. What it feels like is I am changing my stance automatically to accommodate problem areas, which then leads to pain in other areas. I have also started wearing gloves, not because of concern about dirt but to help with potential cuts, scrapes and blisters.  The ones they provide for free seemed to help pretty well.  (Almost all of the bins are these ingenious cardboard box modules with cardboard drawers, and the edges of the drawers can be pretty sharp.  – Lee) I am hoping that eventually I will run through all the areas of the body and “toughen up” all over, but that remains to be seen. On the plus side an employee came up and told me I had passed the safety check with flying colors.  That was strange because I didn’t even know she was watching me, but at least I got the feedback.  I get why people talked about the “big brother” atmosphere now, but I have decided, for the moment at least to not let it bother me.

Oh, and you may notice that I don’t have the number of items picked down below.  Because we are on swing shift, there is no daily report for us, and we have to manually ask someone everyday to look it up.  Frankly this has been a major pain in the butt and since I don’t know what value it provides, I’ll throw it in on the days I can easily get the information, but for my sanity I have to let it go.  I like working swing shift very much, but since there are so few of us, it’s had some negative points.  They have a portal where we can sign up for voluntary overtime, but none of us appear to be set up properly in the system.  That means we need to manually have an HR person put in our requests for OT and when we worked Sunday it’s not showing up in the portal as worked.

They have a manned HR desk open most of the time in the warehouse, but I have not found this to be helpful.  We are always talking to a different person, it appears their knowledge is pretty limited, and since you are not talking to one person the core issue was not being resolved.  Finally I found our Area Manager (my first conversation with him) and laid the situation out.  There is a line between line supervisors and HR and since the portal was on the HR side, initially he was moving me in that direction.  I was having none of that.  I firmly explained I needed someone to take ownership of the problem, and eventually he agreed to call HR.  So far that appears to be the biggest issue with their processes.  The processes all work pretty good, but anytime something falls out of the norm, it appears supervisors/leads have a hard time problem solving.  Admittedly this is my impression from my limited view, but the few times we have had issues because of our shift they have been very difficult to resolve.

If I felt I could stand around while they were fixing it, I would probably care less, but that timer is always in the background.  No one put you in non-productive time while you stop and talk to someone (I did hear that the health clinic, AmCare, does, but haven’t personally seen that) so every minute you are talking to safety or a supervisor counts against you.  And yes, I understand that we are new and no one appears to be even looking at these numbers, but as a metrics driven person that bugs me. In a perfect world every time I went to HR or talked to a lead person they would scan me out and when we were done would scan me back in.  The reason it bugs me is because it sort of pushes a person towards doing work related things in their off time so their metrics aren’t affected and I am not 100% sure that isn’t intentional.  Let me give you an example;

They have this nice portal that we can use to look up tons of info, but every time we logged in from home it made us change our password.  Because of my IT background, I determined pretty quickly that this was happening because we weren’t on their internal network.  The solution (which none of the supervisors was aware of) was to log in just once on their internal computer and change the password there.  It’s a silly little thing, but in order to do that we were referred to a bank of computers in one small corner of the building and the initial setup of our desktop and changing the password took about 7 minutes. (The system uses each computer as a separate desktop, so if you log in to any “new” machine, it goes through the entire process of creating you as a new user on that machine, and setting up a desktop. And it’s slooooooow. – Lee) I decided to do this coming back from lunch, knowing full well that my metrics would show a “late start” back from break.  I also knew that I would need to push it a little bit to make up that 7 minutes. (I take a completely different approach to this entire problem: I just don’t care.  I’ve never been a fan of “the clock”. Once I clock in, I am working, and anything that I need to do that is work related is on their time. If they choose not to use labor tracking for anything “off task” that’s completely up to them. If they don’t want my time wasted dealing with administrative stuff, then they should fix their administrative stuff. At the moment I am consistently between 178 and 200% of goal, so I’m happy to discuss how I manage my time with anyone that would like to bring it up. – Lee)

And sure, I get it, these are seasonal jobs and they don’t really care that much about our metrics as long as we show up on time, but I can’t help but think about the folks that work there full time.  In all fairness I am sure they know how to “get around” the computer system but the whole energy and dynamic of the place is kind of weird.  I’ll see some permanent employees standing and chatting in an aisle while picking and then someone will say, “I better pick something before I get into trouble.” and the little group breaks apart. So I know it’s not just me who feels this internal clock/pressure, I just don’t understand the limits and rules yet. As a rule follower, that’s a little frustrating, but trust me I am not making myself totally crazy…there’s just a ton of time to think on this job.

Tracy: 23,711 steps (9.91 miles)
Lee:   26,251 (11.6 miles)

Interesting Item Picked: Today the item that made me stop in the aisle was a 3D printing pen.  I am not 100% sure how it works, but you draw things and with filaments(?) created a three-dimensional item.  Pretty cool for a kid who has an imagination and is artistic, but no idea if it actually works in practice.  Never seen anything quite like that before though so wanted to pass it along.

(Today the item I picked more than any other,  is the Stocking Flask, the use of which would make the dancing Santa hat seem less ridiculous. I also picked some Enema Coffee. Um, ick. I’ll stick with pumpkin spice flavor, myself. Something else that caught my eye was the girl’s first birthday outfit, available in size 18 months. Must be metric. – Lee)

 


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full-time RVers such as Instant Pot recipes, Travel Days recipes, and Pot Lucks recipes.    You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is also available in paperback.

First Time at Amazon – Getting Hired and Arriving

We’ve made it safely to Amazon and are tucked into our campsite, but before we start working on Monday I wanted to take a step back and explain how we got here.   When we talk about work kamping jobs (those are jobs that are commonly done by people who live in their RV’s either part-time or full-time), Amazon is one of the best known.  Partly that is because their program has been in place for many years, and also because they spend money advertising on the job site Workamper News. 

Every year they hire hundreds of people for their holiday peak season (October – December) and they start that process in January.  We knew about Amazon from our research and other work kampers we had met, and our good friends Kelly and Bill had done a season two years ago.  Consequently it has always been on my list of things to try.  But because we knew we wanted to do it in Cambellsville, Kentucky we needed to work going to that area into our route.  And it’s important that you have a general idea of your route, because they start hiring the January before and since it is a popular job the best way to make sure they have an opening is to apply at the beginning of the year.

So that’s what we did.  Back in January of 2017 we applied for the position online, honestly I can’t remember exactly how we applied except our friend Kelly kept an eye out for us and told us when the position was posted.  They had an online portal and multiple step application process if I remember correctly, but I just don’t recall all of the specifics. Part of the reason I don’t remember is simultaneously we were getting set up for our gate guarding job and interviewing for our summer position.  January is a very busy month for work kampers when setting up jobs because many of the best jobs get posted and are interviewed for during the December/January time frame.   In any event, my first email from Amazon came on January 12th and said our application was under review and “Due to the large number of applications we receive, you may experience a delay in a response from our team. We appreciate your patience through this process.”  Since I had lots of other things going on that was OK with me.

The next email I have shows them contacting me March 22, 2017.  This email said “thanks for your interest” and talked about the locations that would be available and asked us to select one.  Each year there are different Amazon locations that have this program and that is a deciding factor for many workampers.  It costs money to drive to a location, and then drive to your winter place afterwards,  and so this year when they eliminated the Texas location from the mix, several people we knew decided not to “do Amazon this year.”  The company doesn’t share why some locations offer the Camperforce program and others don’t, but the locations do change.  Part of the reason we chose Cambellsville is they are consistently on the list year after year and we wanted to be with our friends Bill and Kelly, and it put us reasonably near Columbus for Christmas.

On March 24th we received a conditional job offer.  We both were expecting an interview of some kind, but that never happened.  Instead we were asked to select our department and shift.  This is where it got tough.  We had minimal information at this point and relied heavily on the experiences of our friends to make a decision.  Lee and I are both in pretty good health, but these are physical jobs and everyone has areas of concern.  We watched a video that talked in detail about the physical requirements of each job and then verified it with anecdotal evidence from people we knew.

Ultimately we selected our first and second choice (Stowing and Picking) and then our shifts (we asked for L shift at the prompting of our friends, which wasn’t in the list of choices but we knew existed and then weekends as our second choice).  L shift is a mid-shift and pays a 75 cent differential, as does the weekend shift.  Since we didn’t care what our days off were, we wanted to maximize how much money we made.  And by the way, we were doing all this in tandem.  You must have a unique email address for both people in the couple and every step had to be coordinated so we gave the same answers and did the steps together.  I will say Amazon did a great job of keeping our accounts “linked” and despite concerns I had ultimately scheduled us in the same place, with the same shift, and same days off. Pretty soon after we made our selections, we received confirmation of our location although we were told it would be a while before we knew what our job or shift would be.

The next communication was in May when we had to decide on our campground.  This is also a big decision as there were several to choose from.  They all had pluses and minuses, and once again we relied heavily on our friends who had been here to ultimately select one that was close by, but had a lot of separation between spaces.  We absolutely needed 50 amp for heating our rig with electric heaters instead of a propane furnace, and although the state park was tempting and offered a honey wagon to help with tank management we both decided we absolutely wanted full hookups.  The most popular campground is Heartland RV, which is within walking distance to the distribution center, but it is first-come first serve and since our start date was late October we assumed it would already be full.  So we selected a campground and then contacted them to make a reservation. That process was a little nerve wracking, because we wanted to get a decent spot but eventually we were able to lock in. Once we were locked in we sent a message to our Amazon contact to let them know the campsite was all set.

I will say our contact was VERY good about answering emails promptly.  We didn’t always understand the answers, but that was more about us being first-timers than anything else.  Again, asking our friends really helped with this process, and eventually we got comfortable with the process. We also attended a live Webinar in May where we were given an overview and allowed to ask questions.  We weren’t alone in having some confusion, but our main contact did a great job of fielding questions.  Our only question at that point was about smoking.  We knew we would work 10 hour shifts with only 2 breaks and a lunch and had heard that you “lost” part of your break walking to the break room.  As smokers we need to spend part of our 15 minutes smoking and if we couldn’t easily get outside that would be an ongoing issue for us.  We were relieved to hear that there were “fenced in” smoking areas attached to doors around the building that were inside of security, allowing smokers to smoke without going all the way to the entrance and through security. That made us both feel better and the entire webinar made us feel more grounded in the job. Update: We toured the building from the outside when we arrived and there are only two smoking stations, and neither is attached to the building via fencing.  Not sure yet how that will play out, but it definitely didn’t match our mental picture from the webinar discussion.

Our next communication was in August. We were told they would not have as much flexibility with job assignments and shifts as in the past and although they would try to accommodate our preferences, ultimately they would put us where they needed us.  For us that was not such a big deal, it was all new to us, but I imagine for folks who had very specific preferences this was more of a concern. Either way we received multiple communications stressing that point, although I don’t know yet how many returning people didn’t get their first choice. We were also told that some Camperforce employees had already started working and there was a need for folks to start early in Shepardsville, KY.  We were in Oregon at that point, but it was good to know an early start was possible at least this year.

One of our biggest concerns regarding Amazon was the lack of overtime.  Some of our friends were hired in 2016 and made relatively little money because the centers were overstaffed.  The pay is reasonable ($10.75 an hour), but the real money comes from OT.  In 2015, Bill and Kelly made what I considered good money, but in 2016 many folks walked away with just standard pay. We really hoped that 2017 would be a “good OT” year, but also understood that we would just have to take it on faith.

On Labor Day we were asked to take a badge picture and upload it to the portal.  We have had to do this for several jobs and although I get how this helps an employer, the process for us is a pain.  You have to find a piece of white wall for one thing, and in our camper we don’t have that.  Consequently, we have taken them in front of Cori and Greg’s front window shade, in my daughter’s apartment, inside a campground rec room, all kinds of places, but it always ends up being a pain in the butt.  Plus add to that the first picture is never, and I mean never, accepted and it’s twice as painful. Amazon was no exception. We did it twice and then received another email saying they would be taking badge pictures during our orientation, so I am not sure why that was even necessary.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.  I know it’s a little thing, but little things can be annoying and it’s worth noting that all of this is unpaid time.

The next communications were at the end of September and were around background checks and drug tests.  We’ve had logistical issues with this in the past, but in this case everything went pretty good.  We didn’t notice that the order for the drug test was only good for one week though and when we missed it by one day had to go back to the third party company who handles this and get another order.  They were awesome, getting us new orders the same day and we were able to get the drug test done on our day off which was a good thing.  The testing facility was an hour away from our location, but we combined the test with a Costco run. We drove an hour to the nearest center, took the tests, and got the results within a couple of days which was great. Once we passed the drug test and background check on September 15th we received our official offer.

Keep in mind that was 9 months from when we first started the process, and although I understand the need to schedule background and drug screening close to the start date, it was a long process to get to this point. Our start date was finalized on September 30th, (we needed to move ours and it was no big deal), and then on October 25th we received instructions to read all of our pre-hire paperwork.

There was a ton of it and if you don’t bother to read it all it’s not that big of a deal.  Just go online, open the doc, hit accept, repeat until all are done. Because this happened while most people would be traveling to get there, you did need solid internet, but if not (according to the email) the Cambellsville library has computers and will help people. I didn’t read every single word, but I did skim everything and it took me over an hour.  This is a large company and many of these documents seemed to apply more to full-time employees.  I did read every word of their confidentiality agreement though, because as a blogger I need to be careful there.  So you will be seeing the following statement on all my posts about Amazon.

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.  

After reading all the documents as prompted, we closed out of the portal but then received an email from our friend Kelly telling us our work assignments should be posted. Honestly I have no idea if this document was up there all the time or was added later, but I can tell you we were never prompted to go there and look at it.  The document was called Terms of Employment and although we were prompted to review the 18 other documents (I counted them) never received a prompt to look at this one.  In any event, this had our shift and supervisor.  They don’t, however, tell you the job, so what everyone does is ask around on Facebook groups or friends to see what their job will be.  Goofy really, not sure why they wait so long to tell you that. Anyway, we found out we were L shift and were going to be pickers about 4 days before we were supposed to start working.

I mention that because if you are a person that will only work one shift or do one job, this might not be for you. Unless of course you are willing to drive to your center and then turn around and leave if you aren’t happy with the assignment.  Perhaps, not  a big deal if you winter on the east coast, but for those of us that winter out west, it could cost several hundred dollars in gas just to get here.  Either way, you need to be open to all possibilities.  We felt really happy though.  Picking was our second choice, but once we learned more about it, thought it might be a better fit for us after all, and the L shift is a really good one. Our friends, who were returning employees and requested the shift, didn’t get it, so I feel pretty lucky.  The extra 75 cents an hour should add up and personally I am thrilled we don’t have to get up at 5am.

Once your shift/job is locked in it’s pretty hard to change it but it does happen.  I have heard of cases where they allowed people to switch jobs with a note from a doctor, but pretty much it seems you are locked in.  That actually makes the most sense to me from a business perspective.  It would be a nightmare of scheduling to allow folks to switch shifts and supervisors and I can completely understand why they would discourage that. All of these “last minute” communications happened while we were traveling to the location, because Amazon will only pay for 2 days of campsite prior to your first work shift.  Some people come in early and are allowed to start early, but since we would be paying out-of-pocket we decided to come in at our scheduled time.

Which takes me to arrival day.  Although we had reservations at another campground, we wanted to check and see if we could get into Heartland Campground, where our friends were staying.  In past years this first-come-first-serve park filled early and we thought we would never get a spot, but this year is different and there were several spaces left when we arrived October 28th. As we were warned, it’s basically a parking lot, but it has strong 50 amp and is within a 5 minute walk of the distribution center.  It also is near our friends and since it is pretty cold here already (32 degrees the first night we were here) we don’t plan on spending a ton of time outside.  Our friend Bill met us at the entrance and then we walked the campground looking at a couple of open spots.  I chose a back-in site on one of the “terraces”, because it was free of standing water and there was only one row of campers on that level. It was a little tricky getting into the spot, because of the terrace, but Lee eventually managed and we are all setup.

Our new home at Heartland Campground

Community room has big screen TV

Laundry facility

Love this table. It’s for people to put extra stuff they don’t want. That’s awesome!!

After some basic setup, Kelly and Bill took us on a tour of Campbellsville.  It’s a nice small town, and has lots of services.  There is a Kroger (which was the grocery store we grew up with) and a huge Walmart and smaller IGA.  It has several restaurants, most of the common fast food places, and even a small movie theater.  It reminded me quite a bit of the small town the beet harvest was in, where local businesses understand the seasonal workforce surge and are used to accommodating those folks.  One of the most interesting things was that the local college allows non-students to buy meal passes.  The meals (which include numerous choices, drinks and deserts) are available for $6.10 each if you buy a punch card for $61.  You can also just pay for one meal which is $7.15.  We actually went inside and checked it our on our tour and will try it at least once. Kelly and Bill (who are on the day shift) eat dinner there frequently so they don’t have to cook at the end of a long day.

The college dining hall

After our tour, we finished our initial setup (tomorrow I am doing a deep clean on the place before we start working) and then had dinner at Kelly’s rig.  We told her they didn’t need to cook, but she insisted on our traditional welcome dinner and we had delicious Kentucky Burgaboo stew.  She also invited Linda and Steve over and we had a great time getting to know them better.  We had met briefly in Alaska over a year ago, but had gotten to know them a little better on Facebook.  Nothing is better than face-to-face for getting to know someone, and we were thrilled by how much we had in common.

From Left: Linda, Steven , Kelly, me, Lee, and Bill in front

We called it an early night because Kelly and Bill were working on Sunday, and headed over to our place, happy to be here and ready to go with minimal fuss.  And we are incredibly grateful that they have guided us through this process.  You certainly can do it without knowing someone who has gone before, but honestly having that additional resource made this entire journey so much more pleasant.  We start working tomorrow, and I will be going back to the Day by Day format, and we will see how it goes.  I’m truly not nervous at all, which is unusual for me starting a new gig.  I think it’s because people we know have done this before and that gives me a level of comfort I wouldn’t necessarily have.


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full-time RVers such as Instant Pot recipes, Travel Days recipes, and Pot Lucks recipes.    You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is also available in paperback.