By almost all accounts, Amazon warehouses are not pleasant places to work. People face dangerous conditions, difficult quotas, and near-instant retaliation for failure to meet expectations. Newly released information on the company’s practices between 2015 and 2021 illustrates the disciplinary side of the Amazon machine through numbers, in a report from Reuters.
At the Staten Island JFK8 warehouse, the first Amazon fulfillment center to vote to unionize, the company issued 13,000 official notices to workers between April 2019 and April 2020. At the time, the warehouse had about 5,300 workers. These warning citations, included errors as small as a single item miscount in a storage bin of 20 things.
And JFK8 workers weren’t alone in collectively receiving the brunt of thousands of disciplinary actions in a single year. In North Haven, Connecticut a warehouse staff of 4,800 earned more than 5,000 instances of “disciplines” including firings, suspensions, and warnings. At a warehouse in Robbinsville, New Jersey, Amazon issued 15,000 disciplines among 4,200 employees between April 2019 and April 2020, according to court documents as reported by Reuters.
These statistics were reportedly provided by the company during a National Labor Relations Board case in response to a subpoena. The same Amazon records also revealed that many of those documented violations were for very small problems, according to Reuters.
For example, a warehouse worker in Carteret, New Jersey was reprimanded for being “off task” for six minutes in June 2018. The worker received their disciplinary notice at 2:57 am, almost immediately following the six minute pause.
In 2017 in the same New Jersey warehouse, another worker was warned they would be fired if they didn’t up their scanning rate from 164 items per hour to at or above the target rate of 175 items per hour. This same worker was also disciplined for exceeding a given break time by four minutes, even though Amazon is supposed to offer a “5 minute walking grace” period.
A New York City warehouse worker made four mistakes retrieving ordered items, compared with 15,800 correctly retrieved items over the course of one week in 2019. Those four errors were enough to warrant an official disciplinary action.
In a statement to Reuters, Amazon claimed these instances were not an accurate reflection of its current worker discipline policies. In 2021, the company said it was changing its “Time off Task” policy to average reporting over a longer period of time and reduce “noise” in a public blogpost. Amazon also told Reuters that less that 25% of all employee feedback is discipline, and that most of that relates to “attendance.”
Given the e-commerce giant’s past frustrations with its own worker pool, though, it’s no surprise that Amazon is pivoting so hard into the world of robotics. The company seems to have a history of expecting inhuman levels of perfection.