What have we gotten ourselves into? (7 weeks, 2 days)

Wowza.  I need to point out that my former co-worker from the campground, Julia, was right. (And I can just hear her gleeful giggle at this admission!) This Amazon gig is no joke!  It’s much more physical that I thought it would be, even though we came into it with a very solid base of activity.  And it’s far from being mindless, unskilled labor.

We worked our first full week, 10 hour days on Mon, Tues, Thurs, and Fri.  Our day starts with waking up at 5am so that we can have time for a huge breakfast.  We leave for work at 6:30, and it only takes a few minutes to make the 5-mile drive.  The warehouse environment is very regimented, and everyone is in place by the time clocks a few minutes before we can start checking in at 6:55.  Our first stop of the day is “stand up”, a quick meeting of the whole department where we hear announcements, do stretching exercises, and get our marching orders for the day.

As Barbara Ehrenreich so deftly argued in Nickle and Dimed, this type of warehouse job is often seen as being low-skilled and easy, when it’s just the opposite.  We’re finding out that instead, the job demands (as Wikipedia puts it) “incredible feats of stamina, focus, memory, quick thinking, and fast learning.”  We had an incredible amount of info to learn in just a couple short training sessions, and then we were sent out to do it mostly on our own.

Our job is to store the incoming product in one of the 450,000 bins in the warehouse in a logical and tidy order, so that pickers can lay their hands on it quickly when it’s ordered online.  There’s a lot of rules about what to put where, and they are all designed to reduce the problems that occur when pickers grab the wrong item.  Sometimes we have easy-to-stow items that are all a uniform size and stackable shape, and nicely laid out on a cart.  Most of the time, we have to work from boxes or bins, and each one has things that go in separate areas.  So, you have to shuffle those boxes and bins around on your cart, put away what you can in one area, and then move to the next area and do the box cha-cha again.  And let me tell you, shuffling boxes is a devil of a slow down.

Because I am so fast at shelving books and gathering requested items for holds in the library, I assumed that I would be a whiz-bang at this job.  Not so.  Our trainers, the “Camperscouts” have cautioned us against looking at our numbers that are posted daily, until we get a bit more skilled and faster at the process.  If I were Lot’s wife, I would be a pillar of salt.  I looked, and I was appalled to see my dismal performance.  I told JJ that I would not be looking again for at least a couple weeks, which means I might be able to hold out another day or two until I check again.  Perfectionist, thy name is Rayn!

We also find our brains very tired from constantly needing to pay attention to barcodes.  Even if you open up a whole box of what seems to be the same thing, you have to inspect every single barcode before you stow it.  Just to confound you, there is often one lonely product that is almost the same, but not quite, and it has to be stowed separately from its compatriots.  This means that our brains are constantly filled with the minutiae of those details, and if you let your thoughts wander, you can miss something.

Our bodies are tired from the repetitious nature of the job.  I have to remind myself to switch the hand I use to hold my scanner, or I wake up the next morning with terrible carpal tunnel.  Also, the warehouse is starting to get pretty full, so most of the easily accessible bins are filled.  The ones that are open are knee level and below, so we spend a lot of the day crouched on the floor.

We had exactly one week of a regular schedule.  Starting tomorrow, we are in mandatory overtime, which means we work 5 10-hour days in the week.  We heard we might also have mandatory long days soon, which means 11 hour days.  So, we will be working between 50 and 55 hours each week.  Anything over 40 hours is time and a half, so we expect to have a nice financial gain from the whole thing!

I really thought that we would get out and about, but today on our day off, I just wanted to sleep in, do lots of cooking, and get chores done.  Anyways, the one place we really wanted to go, Lake Tahoe, had its first winter storm last night, and we can’t go up those mountains without snow chains.  I suppose we will save lots of money simply because we won’t be doing anything other than working!

In general, the last day of the season is traditionally 12/23.  In other words, we have 7 weeks and 2 days to go until a nice 4-month vacation.

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