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.
Before I start I wanted to share some TV we have been watching. A friend of Lee’s recently participated in a Food Network show called Guy’s Big Project and won the opportunity to have his own show on the Food Network. The show is called Grill Dads and it’s really really good. Despite my love of cooking I am not a huge fan of cooking shows, but this one is different. The two dads know lots about food but because they aren’t professional chefs, they explain the food in a way I can understand. Plus they are FUNNY. If you travel, it’s a great way to find unusual restaurants (they are focusing on “out there” food) and if you cook there have been a few items so far even I think I can replicate (hamburger with grilled cheese for the bread anyone!) Either way it’s a great show and I really recommend you check it out. (There was another contestant on the show that also won his own series, and it’s also very good, called Eat Sleep BBQ. Check them both out! – Lee)
We also took the recommendation of our kids and watched a how called The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s an Amazon show, and available to stream on Prime, and for my money the best written and acted television show I have seen in a long long time. So glad that they picked it up for another season because it is definitely on our most watched list. The show is set in New York in the 60’s and the details and nuance are spectacular. Seriously, it is so good, I don’t even have the words to adequately explain it, so try and episode and see for yourself.
OK, back to Amazon. We are in the home stretch now, and hanging in knowing this is our last week. We are slowly saying our goodbyes to people (we don’t always see the folks who work other shifts every day) and putting one sore foot in front of the other. Our morning was pretty normal, with picking, although we found out at the end of the day that Lee won last night’s power hour. They divided the winners between the three groups (Camperforce, regulars or “blue badges”, and Integrity, the temp employees), which in my mind gave me a fighting chance. I tried and did 147 that hour which felt pretty good considering my pick paths. Lee, who didn’t even try and barely knew it was happening, was one of the winners. Figures! So that was another $10 gift card which takes us up to $60 all told. I think it’s really great that they do that, and although we haven’t won any of the larger prizes ($100 gift cards, Kindles, or 50 inch TV’s) we do personally know 4 people who have won them. Personally I appreciate that they are doing the giveaways and the fact that they are spreading the winners out among all the groups and shifts.
For the first time I put my name on the volunteer list (a list to volunteer to work in another area) and was called to go to pack. They sent me to the Studio (which is an area upstairs I had never been to) and I did singles for the rest of the night. Singles are much easier from a mental standpoint than multi’s, but the pace is faster and I definitely was feeling it in my back and shoulders. Still my feet were happy with me for standing on thick rubber and I wished I had signed up sooner. I am pretty sure you have to be officially cross-trained in an area to be eligible to be moved, but since we are cross-trained in pack that works for us. It’s also nice to split the day doing something else, although I can definitely see how doing any of the jobs all day would take a toll.
The problem for me is the pace. It’s pretty relentless, and set for the blue badges, and even though we are allowed to work at 85% of that, it’s hard to make the mental adjustment. I just don’t have it in me to work slower than those around me, especially when the workload is high, and although I can force myself to slow down for short periods, I just naturally fall into a rhythm that matches those around me. Lee, by the way, is doing much better than I am physically. He excels at packing and picking and his pace matches or exceeds most of the full time employees, with minimal physical effects. His problem lies more in the atmosphere of the place and I really should take a moment and explain that.
Lee has never been a corporate guy, and except for a year long stint at a bank when we were kids has always worked for very small companies. And for the past 10 years of our sticks and bricks life he essentially worked for himself, answering only to a board of directors that left him completely alone to do his own thing with no interference. He is also a creative person and hates micro management in any form, so for him the constant oversight is very challenging. He’s not alone in that by the way. I met someone at the beet harvest who talked passionately about how much he hated that, and although I like those sorts of things and in an odd way find them comforting, Lee finds the atmosphere “toxic.” OK, I know that is a strong word, but he has used it several times and I want to be VERY clear that the people are not causing this reaction. He just doesn’t like working under such tight controls, and this whole season has been a real struggle for him mentally. I’m going to leave it at that, but if you have a similar personality, please take that into account. Yes, you can do anything for a short period of time, but don’t be surprised if you have a strong reaction.
Tracy: 17,988 steps ( 7.55 miles) (spent half a day in pack)
Items Picked: 474 due to a half day of picking. No idea how much I packed. A lot.
Lee: steps ( miles)
Items Picked: ()
Interesting Item Picked: I ran across a Vecton hard case for Cards Against Humanity that I thought was cool. We have all the expansion packs, but all the boxes are loose in our rig since they were purchased separately. It would be nice to have a place to put all of them and it’s reasonably priced. But the absolute winner is a Tyrian T-Shirt from Game of Thrones that Says “That’s what I do. I drink and I know things.” Kelly you absolutely need to buy Bill one of these!!
We worked half a day today, used our 5 hours of personal time, which was pretty great. The most exciting thing was when I learned I had won the power hour from the previous day. Hooray me!! I also won $10 more dollars in Burger King gift cards so that takes us up to $70. We clocked out at 5:15pm, which was 5 hours from when we arrived, and then went to grab Kelly and Bill. They also took half a day off, and after some discussion we all decided to go out and have Mexican food at Garcia’s. For a small town in Kentucky, the food was really good, and reasonably priced and my Margarita was yummy. In case it’s not clear by now, I absolutely adore these people. They are wonderful friends to us and I feel incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. We are going to miss them terribly when we leave, but will see them at the reunion rally so that’s something. It’s hard leaving friends when you aren’t sure when you will get to see them next.
Tracy: 11,720 steps ( 4.89 miles) (half day)
Items Picked: 654 half day of picking.
Lee: 8,100 steps ( 3.57 miles)
Items Picked: 425
Interesting Item Picked: Once again I saw something new that completely stopped me in the aisle and this time it was a Phillips Home defibrillator machine. After learning about the new ones and how easy they are to use in our first aid class this summer, I can understand why it would be a benefit to have one of these in the house. I picked three of them, and thought about how often we are in remote areas and with Lee’s medical history (his biological father has had nine heart attacks) would it be a good idea to carry one in the rig. Then I started wondering about how to keep them charged (would prolonged boondocking have an impact) and where we would store it. I came home though half convinced on having one and then I saw the price tag. $1200!!! No disrespect to the makers, I am sure this is a very complicated machine, but this is completely out of our price range. The good news is now that they are out there I am sure they will go down in price eventually, but in the meantime there are many people who could use one of these but simply can’t afford them. I can envision a day though where they are a common item in every house with people over a certain age, but they definitely need to work on that price point.
We went to bed early and woke up early so that we could meet our friends Georgia and Jim for breakfast. They are a couple we raised our kids with in Keene, New Hampshire and they have finally taken the plunge, sold everything, and are moving to California. Georgia’s son lives in California now and she loves the west coast, so they decided to make the move. It is no small change. Years of stuff to go through and sell, long time jobs to quit, it is a major move and we were so happy that they were able to route themselves so they could see us along the way. We met them at Druthers, this little breakfast place we had heard about, and wow was it good. Paper plates and counter service, but for $4.99 we had a spectacular breakfast and the coffee was very very good. We sat for over two hours talking and catching up, but finally wished them a safe journey because we had to go into work. I am sure we will be seeing them again soon.
When we went into work we found out the the fulfillment center had set all-time records the previous day, and was on pace to set more. The team had processed a mind-boggling amount of packages and we spent a busy morning in pick. The one exciting thing that happened was I turned a tight corner and knocked a plastic cover off of one of the conveyor belts. It made a god awful racket and the day manager quickly came up the stairs. I told her I had to break something before I left, but she just laughed and had someone call maintenance. Then she stood there until they arrived to make sure no one hurt themselves. If I haven’t said it enough before, I really, really like these managers. I didn’t see any of them lose their patience one time and they really get work kampers. I made sure I took the time to thank them all individually and I was glad I did because we ended up being in pack the last half of the day.
Tracy: 17,976 steps ( 7.51 miles) (half day)
Items Picked: I don’t know the numbers but we did get our percentages. I was 173% productivity in pick and $132% in pack.
Lee: 15,643 steps ( 6.91 miles)
Items Picked: 532. 188% in pick and 192% in pack. The manager’s eyes widened a little when they read our numbers, which was gratifying.
Interesting Item Picked/Packed: The weirdest thing I did all day was a very small gas mask repair kit. All I could think was “who has a gas mask?” and why would they need a repair kit for it. Pretty strange. My pick of the day though is a robe. I like robes, and think they are a wonderful gift and throughout the season I have picked tons of them. I was always pretty picky about the type of robe though so have looked with interest for the “perfect one” throughout the season. It’s actually kind of funny because I don’t have a robe anymore. Since my bathroom is literally two steps from my bedroom and closet it doesn’t make a ton of sense, but I still like them. Anyway, I found one today that I liked called Towel Selections. It’s 100% cotton, which is important in a robe, and has pockets, which I personally like. So that’s my pick for best robe of the season, and I am glad I finally nailed this down before we left. I have seriously looked at hundreds of robes and this one came to me at the very end. Of course this is based on sight only. To really choose a robe you need to feel it, but I liked this one.
Kelly and Bill knocked on our door at 8:30am because they had been released early! Apparently the bottom fell out of the orders (I think once you can’t get the item for Christmas anymore things really flatten out) and they were all released early. The cool thing is they got paid for the whole day. We had been told to make sure we said our goodbyes early and I am glad we did, because for them at least it was very sudden. We aren’t sure when we are going to do our release meeting at this point, because there are only 6 Camperforce on our shift, but are planning for anything at this point. Lots of people must have been ready to go because folks started driving out of the campground less than an hour later. Kind of a bummer for the night shift folks, since people were pretty loud, but nice for those who got early release. Kelly and Bill are headed to Florida, so they were packing up and heading out, so we said our goodbyes, knowing we would see them again at the rally in March if nothing else.
On a side note, we weighed ourselves this morning and here are the results. I started at 139 and now weigh 134 so I lost 5 pounds. Lee started at 189 and is now at 180 so he lost 9 pounds. Not bad, but not really the dramatic results we were both hoping for. I also took a few minutes and filled out our exit survey, so I thought I would share some of what I put here. Our friend Kelly said they made some changes from surveys that were done two years ago, so obviously they read these.
What did we do well?
My Answer: The managers were excellent. They all did a terrific job. They understand work kampers and were ALWAYS respectful and helpful in their dealings with us. Big Fan!! I thought your processes were really strong and liked how detailed the training was in particular our safety training. I liked the emphasis on safety throughout the season and the fact that we had an opportunity to cross train in packing. The full time employees we met were very helpful and the overall atmosphere was really good. We felt welcomed and wanted which is no small thing.
What Can We do Better?
My Answer: There is a ton of information given but the communication could be stronger. As mid-shift employees we had the opportunity to see all of the shifts and everyone wasn’t always on the same page. Plus a ton of acronyms were used and as first time Amazon employees we often didn’t understand what people were talking about. One-on-one communications were very good, but the group communications need some work. My major complaint about this was the lack of follow-up. If the person I was talking to knew the answer it was fine, but many questions resulted in an “I’ll get back to you” and that often didn’t happen. It’s important that every interaction results in an answer and this is definitely an area for improvement.
As relatively younger work kampers (51 and 49) our productivity stats were pretty good. We routinely worked at over 130% productivity and as much as possible tried to keep pace with the regular employees in both pack and pick. We were aware as work kampers that we could slow down and work a little slower, but it is in our nature to contribute as much as possible. Unfortunately, for me, this led to some long and exhausting days and although I avoided any major injuries I was in pain a lot. This is one area where I didn’t feel like I could go talk to someone and get some help. The AmCare folks were very nice and provided bandaids, etc but unless you had a serious injury I felt like I was on my own. And that’s when I really started to feel like a cog in a wheel. We had the desire to work, the ability to contribute at a high level, but no ability to make minor job changes to help make the job easier physically or mentally. I see this taking place with your blue badge employees. Folks are given different jobs (water spider, tote team, etc to change things up), but with work kampers those opportunities are pretty limited. This is where the system broke down for me. I know we are here for a short time, and I know we need to be placed based upon business needs, but for us a little bit of work variety would have worked wonders. I definitely think that would have been possible if a little more personal attention was given to the individual workers state of mind and physical well being.
Are you Interested in Returning Next Year?
I don’t think so. We don’t mind hard work, but for us the compensation wasn’t high enough to warrant the physical toll the job took on us. We worked 50 hours every week we were here, and I was in pain almost all of the time. The opportunity to work in pack on some days helped quite a bit, but changing our job out was largely based on luck rather than strategy. If we had the opportunity to cross train early and you offered more variety of jobs for work kampers I would definitely consider it.
We went into work and since we only have 6 work kampers on our shift I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Our manager, who had been out on paternity leave, came back and we were all glad we got to see him before we left. He was obviously in catch up mode though and no one was sure when we were leaving. We worked through first quarter (only picked 63 items per hour) and then worked most of 2nd quarter. Managers came to talk to both Lee and I and our question was when were we going to get to leave??? It looked like they were going to make us wait until night shift left (probably around 8pm) and that was really bothering both of us. Then at 4pm we got a call to go to the pick desk and were released from the shift. That was awesome. On the way out we were grabbed by our coordinator at the break room and brought in for a quick meeting. All the department heads were there and even though there were only 6 of us, they took the time to talk to us and thank us.
As much as I appreciated the thanks, I really do feel like they missed an opportunity. With such a small group they could have asked us a few questions about our experience, but instead we listened to them and then were given candy bars and we left. It felt pretty routine, but again I did appreciate that they went to the trouble and I really appreciate that we got paid for the remainder of the day. Lee went and got a haircut and I worked on getting the house buttoned up so we could leave first thing in the morning. We heard some bad weather is coming in and we wanted to beat the storm.
So this ends my daily posts about Amazon. We will be with family over the next few days and then heading down to Texas hopefully to get a gate guarding job. I will be writing up a summary as soon as we get our bonus checks, but since that is a significant part of our compensation for this gig I want to make sure I include that in my summary. I also want to let a few days pass and get some perspective, so I can be as balanced and fair as possible.
Thanks to everyone who followed along and who found our accounts interesting. We have now finished the “big five” work kamping jobs and I will be writing a summary of those experiences in total as well. When we started this journey our goal was to try everything and see what we liked. So we have Camp Hosted, sold Christmas Trees, done the Beet Harvest, Gate Guarded, and now Amazon. I am glad for those experiences and the opportunity to write about them, but I am also glad to be done with them. We have gathered enough information to know what works for us and will be focusing in 2018 on finding ways to finance this lifestyle that provide us with some level of professional satisfaction and balance. Thank you for following along and I hope you stay with us in the next phase.
Tracy: 12,629 steps (5.28 miles) (half day)
Items Picked: 350
Lee: 13,793 steps (6.09 miles)
Items Picked: 377
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