I read a story about working in a fulfillment center for an on-line retailer on Mother Jones this morning. It was written by Mac McClelland ,Mother’s human rights reporter. I also watched an interview with her about the story. Her quotes herein come from both the article and the interview.
To write the article, she took a job at the fulfillment center and worked for about a week. (See article here.)
She discusses the long hours and difficult working conditions: as many as twelve hours per day scurrying all over the 800,000 square foot warehouse filling orders from stock in shelving as high as seven feet, which requires climbing and stooping, all the while avoiding the 3,000 other workers filling orders and trying to pull 1,500 items in a day, which is the typical quota given. For a 12-hour day, that is one item every 30 seconds.
McClelland describes the working conditions as “sort of inhumane,” “impersonal,” “demoralizing and dehumanizing,” that workers are “corralled like cattle,” are tortured and exploited.” She described the warehouse as “terribly non-ergonomically friendly” because gathering items meant having to kneel on the floor and stand on “tippy-toes.” When she was working in the book area, the static electricity was so bad she got shocked every time she touched a book.
I have two responses to this article.
First: I have never worked in a warehouse or any factory setting for more than a few days and never had to face the prospect of doing a repetitive-motion physically demanding job for the rest of my life (computer work ain’t the same). But the little bit of time I did do it made me want to never have to do it again and gave me respect for people who do these jobs.
It would be nice if everyone loved their jobs and woke up every morning eager to go face the workday, but the truth of the matter is that many—possibly even most—do not have that luxury. There are kids to feed and bills to pay and the way this gets done is by taking whatever job will pay enough to do this, no matter how bad the job is.
McClelland acknowledges this in her piece somewhat. This is a tough game. Is it bad that some jobs are not fun? Dunno. And no doubt there are dangerous jobs and jobs that take their toll on the body and the soul. I spent a little time picking crops and hauling hay and my back and arms and legs ached and I got blistered by the sun, but I did it because the money was good.
A lot of jobs are like this, and these jobs provide us with a lot of things we take for granted, not the least of which is crops.
Her suggestion was to hire more people so as to make the job easier or to put the product in easier to reach locations, which would require much bigger warehouses, but this really wouldn’t do much to alleviate the conditions until everyone was able to work at his or own pace, but that would make the cost go up to the buyer, which leads to the second response, and the real issue of this posting.
The real issue is not the company trying to squeeze an extra three cents out of a transaction, it is that we just don’t want to pay the extra cost, no matter what it is.
The flap about the conditions at the Apple plants in China are right on point. To make the jobs better, to pay a decent wage and all—actually, to move the jobs back to this country and make the adjustments required to provide an acceptable workplace would raise the cost of a typical I-Phone by $65 dollars. Is this enough to make us buy another phone or would we just pay it?
We can blame all the business people we want, but we hold the cards. Without us buying, they would be out of business. And if they were to get the message loud and clear that we are not buy from them because of how they treat workers, things would change. Quickly. Will we do this?
McClelland talks about this but does not take ownership of it. While it is unsaid where she worked, it is clear that the conditions she describes are fairly common in fulfillment centers. Should companies make the change because it is just the right thing to do?
I may have been born at night, but it was not last night. Until we are willing to pay for the service, things are as they are. And I don’t see anyone offering to pay more.
This is where the government has a role. If enough people complain and are not willing to change their ways, laws can be enacted to make things better. That’s why we have things like adequate fire exits in workplaces now. I wish we could make the changes ourselves, but FREE SHIPPING is just too hard to say no to.
See my comments stemming from the discovey of this posting by a pro-gun site here.