bezos amazon
© Illustration: Sam Morris/Getty Images
The wealth we produce is being accumulated by our boss Jeff Bezos, while our wages barely keep us afloat’.

The Amazon Diaries, our anonymous insider takes us behind the scenes at an Amazon fulfillment center where workers are 'an extension of the machine'

Welcome Amazonians. It is always Day 1. Are you ready to make a difference?

It was my first day as a seasonal Amazon worker, hired just prior to peak season. Our site operations manager was like many Amazon managers: an ex-military white male, in his late 40s and wearing straight-fit jeans and a T-shirt with "Amazon Military" emblazoned on the front. He drew a line alongside an inverted pyramid, writing "least important" on the bottom and "most important" higher up, with the word "customer" scrawled along the very top.

"Where do you think Jeff Bezos sees himself on this chart?"

Silence. He points to the bottom of the pyramid.

"Jeff sees himself as the least important person in the company. What this company cares about is the customer promise, and putting our customers first.

"Where do you think our associates are?"


"Here! Jeff sees you at the very top! You, the associates, are the closest to the customers. It is up to you, every day, to uphold our customer promise. As front line associates, you are the most important part of this company!"

As I headed to our training session wearing my new orange associate work-vest and wearing my white badge designating me as a "seasonal" employee, I was approached by a co-worker in a fancy, blue and green-lined "Ambassador" vest and a blue badge that signified he has been "converted" to a non-seasonal Amazon worker.

"Did they give you the pyramid crap?"

I nodded.

"That's a load of shit." We laughed, but I wasn't quite sure I understood.

"Welcome to Amazon," he said.

The inverted pyramid has stuck with me as an Amazon fulfillment associate. In some ways it's on point. It's important to take a step back and realize what an Amazon fulfillment center really is. Prior to Amazon, the sale of stuff largely took place through physical stores. Enter a store and there can be dozens of employees, stocking shelves, managing the check-out counter, controlling inventory. The pace and rhythm of the day, at least compared to fulfillment centers, can be relatively relaxed.

At Amazon, by contrast, we are not retail workers. We are factory workers.

A single fulfillment center can contain 1,500-2,000 full-time workers, stowing, picking, packing, unloading, sorting, palletizing and delivering hundreds of thousands of items every day. Centers are filled with the whirl, grind, and moan of conveyor belts, the incessant drone of a forest of Kivabots moving shelves.

We work hard, and diligently, to make Amazon run. While our collective efforts produce astounding results, we are supervised ever more intensively. Through the use of digital trackers and indicators, our workday is managed down to the second, with each task timed based on a "rate" set by managers who push us ever faster. Work is often organized to keep workers from talking or even taking breaks, with this time considered "off-task". Like factory workers on the assembly line, we are essentially extensions of the machine.

Amazon worker
© Patrick Semansky/AP
A fulfillment center in Baltimore. ‘Without us there is no Amazon Prime, no advertising revenue, no streaming video, no HQ2.’
When you recognize that we are what keeps Amazon going, and the most important part of the business, putting us at the top of the pyramid is right. Workers - whether the engineers or the hundreds of thousands of warehouse employees - are the backbone of the business and the source of astounding wealth. Without us there is no Amazon Prime, no advertising revenue, no streaming video, no HQ2.

However, the pyramid analogy is also fitting because at the time this place feels like a pyramid scheme. After a few months at the company, it becomes clear to most of us that management doesn't regard us a crucial contributors to its success. In reality, they treat us like disposable parts.

It doesn't take long before you've see blown backs, boxes falling on people's heads, carpal tunnel in your coworkers' wrists, and balky knees that never get better. You've seen workers compensation claims repeatedly denied and efforts to address safety issues given low priority. You've seen sexism, racism, and ageism in a promotion culture tainted with favoritism. You've seen write-ups unfairly distributed and used to manipulate workers. You've seen an emotionally toxic culture, where the stress of meeting productivity targets leads managers to treat workers like things, to be pushed harder and faster without regard for the emotional or personal cost. You've arrived home exhausted, too worn out to spend time with your kids or friends. And you've noticed that the wealth we produce is being accumulated by our boss - the modern world's richest man - while our wages barely keep us afloat. Amazon's much-touted new minimum wage of $15 is not enough to propel hundreds of thousands of us into the middle class.

Those of us as at the bottom of the pyramid put our bodies and lives on the line, but those at the top of the pyramid are hung out to dry. The closer you are to doing the actual work of making this company run, the more your self-respect is attacked.

Every other week, this column will seek to understand the complexity of life inside Amazon, and explore the effects Amazon has on our lives and on our broader community. Throughout, I want to remain consistent on one thing: Amazon workers deserve respect. As the people who make this company run, we are unique. And only if we are united will we be able to transform our company and our communities into the ones we want.
  • The Amazon Diaries will appear every two weeks. The writer has chosen to remain anonymous over concerns about retaliation.