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.

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