the DON JONES INDEX…

 

 

 

GAINS POSTED in GREEN

LOSSES POSTED in RED

 

 

 

7/23/21…  14,307.39 

7/16/21…  14,282.28  

6/27/13…  15,000.00

 

(THE DOW JONES INDEX:  7/30/21…34,823.35; 7/16/21…34,963.45; 6/27/13… 15,000.00)

 

 

LESSON for July 23, 2021 – TAYLOR MADE (One Size Fits All)

 

Jeff Bezos followed Richard Branson into the up and down of space (well, high-end atmospheric) travel last week, taking along his brother, 82 year old pioneer astronaut Wally Bump and an 18 year old Dutch kid who apparently received his Golden Ticket from a relative who paid 28 million (with an “M”) to join the billionaire (with a “B”) on his journey, then developed “scheduling conflicts”.  There was no crew… it was a sort of Elon Musk driverless rocket… providing the quartet with four, maybe five minutes of weightlessness.

“In 2001,” wrote Brian Dumaine in the usually flattering “bezonomics”, Amazon had survived the collapse of the dot-com bubble and its stock was on the rise again.  With the company in the clear, the young entrepreneur thought it a good time to start a private rocket firm.  He opened up an office in Seattle and named the start-up Blue Origin.”

As Blue Origin went up and down, back on their pleasant blue planet of departure (growing less blue and less pleasant almost by the hour, so it seems) millions of consumers, worldwide, were pumping money like the jet fuel fueling Jeff’s ride on the occasion of 2021’s Amazon Prime days, a weekend orgy of consumption that has pushed Bezos, whom Dumaine dubbed “the Tony Stark of Seattle” to the top of the world billionaire ladder.  Prime-ing the pump were thousands of little oompa-loompas at Amazon’s “fulfillment centers” scurrying this way and that to retrieve, process and ship the books, movies and trinkets to a plague-battered constituency with money (or credit) to spend and a backlog of hours and days of insatiable boredom.

“For those people,” reported Alex N. Press of the lefty Jacobin website, “Prime Day means mandatory overtime, with shifts extended from ten to twelve hours, or extra shifts added to their schedule. One worker recently told me he’ll be mandated to work fifty-five hours this week. He’s in pain and a doctor told him it’s carpal tunnel syndrome, but he hasn’t filed paperwork with Amazon because that requires him to go to another doctor to get diagnosed, and he doesn’t have time to do that. Another person, who has since left the company, told me she was pressured to work for over twenty-four hours straight on Prime Day.”

“While the billionaire plays with space exploration, Amazon employees for years have outlined poor working conditions and treatment on the job,” seconded another critic – this billionaire-hater being, astonishingly, Breitbart’s John Binder.  Nor did the in-town right-wing rival to Jeff’s WashPost, the Washington Examiner, fail to mention the spaceman’s… uh… tax problems.

The controversy re-surfaced after… in a post-voyage press conference… the owner of spaceship corporation Blue Origin, mail-order behemoth Amazon and some other stuff thanked the little people.  "I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this — Thank you from the bottom of my heart very much."

In the U.S. Senate, progressive Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts tore into the billionaire, repeating her call for a "wealth tax" and accusing Bezos and the company he founded, Amazon, of paying no taxes according to Fox News, which called public response to the statement a “roasting”.

Former President Donald Trump, called into the Fox News Show "Sunday Morning Futures," hosted by Maria Bartiromo, and thanked… surprisingly!... himself; saying his administration had leased facilities to Branson and Bezos so that they could go to space.

"They love sending rocket ships up. And I made it possible for them to do this. I actually said to my people, 'Let the private sector do it,'" Trump said.

"These guys want to come in with billions of dollars. Let's lease them facilities, because, you know, you need certain facilities to send up rockets. And we have those facilities. We have the greatest facilities."

Mister Trump and Mister Bezos, Don Jones may be edified to know… or not… do not like each other, leaving Fox, Breitbart and among other media, wondering who to support and the liberals – whom to oppose.

 

The fiscal foundation of Blue Origin (and, for that matter: Whole Foods, Zappos, the Washington Post, Ring, Audible and lil’ old mail order enterprise called Amazon) rests upon Jeffy’s longtime (less those few days, since he retired) connubial embrace of Amazon, which he founded as a book outlet in 1994 after a decade on Wall Street.

Bezos (nee Jorgensen) had studied banking and electrical engineering, and, after securing a $300,000 loan from stepfather Mike Bezos, he named his new company Cadabra but later changed the name to Amazon because the name begins with the letter A, which is at the beginning of the alphabet.  At the time, website listings were alphabetized, so a name starting with "A" would appear sooner when customers conducted online searches.

Mister Bezos owes his billions to the two role models yanked out of the past… one corporate, one socio-political.

 

At the dawn of the 20th century, as America grew, wealth, girth and population, and various entrepreneurial schemes flourished, enticing Richard Warren Sears (a young dealer in wristwatches of often dubious provenance) and his watch repairman, Alvah Curtis Roebuck to commence publishing their Sears-Roebuck catalog (often considered the secular Bible of rural America) from Chicago in 1906.  Their modest “fulfillment center” also served as corporate headquarters until 1973 when the Sears Tower was completed and as the base of the mail-order catalog business until 1993. 

Increasing urbanization motivated the company to enter into competition with local department stores by opening its first brick and mortar enterprise in 1925.  The first Sears retail stores were pioneering and broke the conventions of the time in three ways: first, their location away from main shopping districts; second, their innovative store design, and third, their unconventional product mix and retailing practices.

Sears reached its pinnacle in the 1970s according to Susan Kapner of the Wall Street Journal, having opened outlets in Canada, Mexico and cost to coast.  But despite diversification into manufacturing, real estate, credit cards and the DieHard batteries that would form the basis of a series of Bruce Willis movies, Sears was overtaken by WalMart in 1990. The company discontinued its catalog in 1993, sacking the 50,000 workers who had filled its orders. “This was before the internet became an effective tool,” Kapner contended, “…with the advantage of hindsight, the timing was poor.”  Sears had already had in place what it took Amazon years to achieve but times had changed, as had the reputation of its now deceased founders… their successors quailed under a barrage of civil and criminal charges.

By 2019, the brick and mortar stores – further crippled by a linkage with the equally moribund K-Mart – were closing left and right… 26 in August, 91 in September, 100 more in January, 2020, 51 in February.

Near the end of 2019, Sears sold the brand name DieHard to Advance Auto Parts for $200 million… it survives, howsoever barely, with 312 Hometown stores and 138 Outlet stores remaining, as well as 25 Sears Auto Centers, according the Retail Dive's analysis of Sears' website on Jun 1, 2021.

The Wealthy Gorilla website lists the current net worth of Bruce Willis as $250 million.

Bezos, at last reckoning was worth $208 billion.  (Competitor Branson is worth a paltry $4B, Elon Musk, often considered to be likely third privateer into space tourism, a more respectable $160 bil.)

The recent New York Times exposé of Amazon’s unfulling fulfillment centers highlighted the bicentibillionaire’s generosity thusly…

In Facebook groups, warehouse workers across the country shared photos of the messages their managers sent to motivate and reward them. Some won air fryers or Fire TV Sticks. In Connecticut, a manager messaged employees at their workstations that if they handled 400 items an hour, or about one every 10 seconds, “you WIN CANDY.”  At another, a sign went up during the holidays: “Today’s Snack: A Banana *Available 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.*” In Ohio, workers got scratch-off cards to win prizes.

One employee scratched off two with the same message: “Please try again.”

The wristband controversy unearthed in 2012 and exhumed in 2015 unloosed a deluge of criticism and downright paranoia – the benevolent image of Amazon (as epitomized in its smiling logo) submerged under its tide of PR sewage and its effluvia still complicates Don Jones’ perception of the Trump/Bezos catfight. 

Jeff went into space.  Djonald created SPACE FORCE.

As President, Trump threw paper towels at disaster victims in Puerto Rico; Bezos threw bananas at his worker-monkeys.

Who’s the villain in this scrap?  Who’s the hero?

 

Amazon has gleaned some unmutual publicity on at least three occasions, occasioned by media accounts of its doings in the likes of the New York Times, recently and back in 2015,  See Attachments One (A) and (B)

Thelr first adventure, in 2012, featuring Amazon’s mandatory wristbands… hardly a microchip incursion into the proles, as yet was a glancing blow with short-lived consequences. 

That original scandal, emerging from Amazon’s warehouses, as noted the Jacobin magazine (a publication by and with a slant towards… well… Jacobins) “centers on the company’s newly patented wristband, which gives it the ability to track and record employees’ hands in real time. Some have described the technology as a “dystopian” form of surveillance. Amazon has countered that journalists are engaging in “misguided” speculation. To hear the retail giant tell it, all the device does is move its inventory-tracking equipment from workers’ hands to their wrists — what’s the big deal?”

Given the level of surveillance and regimentation already in place in Amazon warehouses, the company wasn’t completely off base. Currently, warehouse workers called pickers carry a scanner that directs them from product to product. All shift they race the countdown clock, which shows them how many seconds they have to find the item, place it in their trolley, and scan the barcode.

“A variation on this method exists in warehouses where robots bring the shelves to workers,” Jacobin said. “There, workers stand in place as stacks of products present themselves one by one. For ten and a half hours, they must stoop and stretch to retrieve an item every nine seconds. The scanners control workers’ behavior by measuring it, preventing slowdowns and allowing managers to create new performance benchmarks. Quick workers raise the bar for everyone, while slow workers risk losing their job.”

The Commies chose not to elaborate upon the second half of the Taylorian deal with workers… harassment and firing for the losers, true, but higher pay for the winners.  Many bananas!

By 2015, the gig was up.

Prior to the NYT II scolding, the world had been made cognizant of the wretchedness of Amazon employees five years ago when Bloomberg… of all persons/corporations… noted their patents for an “ultrasonic bracelet” that tracks workers’ movements. Pitched as a labor-saving device, they monitor how efficiently workers fill orders as well as giving them positive “haptic feedback” -- a little vibration -- as they reach for the correct bins, reducing unnecessary motion.  (The painful shock upon reaching for the wrong bins… that would come later.)

Shortly, the issue went global.  “One of the more interesting excursions that reality TV has made into the workplace,” the BBC followed up the wristband expose upon reporting in August, 2015, “is the series Undercover Boss. A chief executive dons a disguise and enters the lowest ranks of the large corporation they run. Instead of meeting a happy workforce, they instead find misery, managerial meanness and bizarre levels of micro-regulation.”

The New York Times's recent exposé of life for Amazon's white-collar workforce had done something similar, the Brits acknowledged, but without the participation of chief executive Jeff Bezos in disguise. Much of the attention was on the highly individualised "rank and yank" performance review where employees were regularly reviewed, stack ranked, and the worst performers fired.”

The British broadcasters detailed the American newspaper’s account of a “data-led performance management system that documented almost every action - including how long it took to reply to an email. There was also the Anytime Feedback Tool, where workers could leave anonymous comments about each other's performance to the boss. A former employee complained it could be used to sabotage co-workers and exact revenge. It "promises to turn the annual performance review into a daily event", the report said.”

Amazonian defenders… a mixed bag given that the CEO was high up on then-candidate Trump’s enemies’ list… were similarly underwhelmed and even the BBC was noncommittal.  “Much of the media reportage got the wrong end of the stick about Amazon's micro-management philosophy in representing it as some aberrant and highly unusual case,” they deduced, not broadly applicable to American capitalism.

“It has been noted that (other) major companies including General Electric, Microsoft and Accenture Consulting have all abandoned the "rank and yank" type of performance review because of the disorder and mistrust it creates.

Bezos, customarily a cool cat, responded angrily to the New York Times allegations. In a memo to staff, he accused the paper of grossly misrepresenting the firm: "The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day."

Managers, after all, “have been trying to control workers for well over a century” admitted the left-wing Jacobin magazine. Amazon’s new employee-tracking wristbands were “just the latest innovation.”

To hear the retail giant tell it, contended the Jacobins, “all the device did was move its inventory-tracking equipment from workers’ hands to their wrists — what’s the big deal?”

Amazon yawned.  Bezos, at that time the 15th wealthiest man on Forbes’ list of billionaires, has since jumped the sharks to claw and snarl his way to Number One.  The other Fab Fifteen that Forbes scrutinized were Jeffy’s own Fifteen Principles (previously fourteen, soon to be sixteen – see Geekwire, Attachment Three) which investors (if not humanitarians) were to take into account when considering their portfolios.

 “Is Amazon's Ruthless Management Culture Hurting Its Stock Price?” screeched Forbes a week before Halloween, 2015, as the “wristband” controversy was reaching the end of its run.  No!... it wasn’t. 

Forbes Magazine, a connoisseur of billionaires published by Steven Forbes,  himself only a common half-billionaire and former Republican Presidential candidate, unearthed a variety of deep state and deep global academics and bean counters like Dr. Klaus Schwab, founder of The World Economic Forum, who made this provocative statement at the opening of the 2013 event in Davos: “Capital is being superseded by creativity and the ability to innovate – and therefore by human talents – as the most important factors of production.”

Hyping “talentism”, Forbes contributor Katina Stefanova warned of “troubles to come” for the troll-managers, including “disengaged employees, high turnover rate, senior leadership departures, lack of strong middle-management layer ready to ascend the ranks, ability for other firms to poach top performers, frequent lay-offs or relentless firing of the bottom 20%.”

Bezos, in fact, has exulted in establishing jungle rules – casting off far more than 20% of his failed humans (the carrot in his arsenal, promotions and raises, being existent, but rare) and the occasional customer responds in an unmutual way, like the reader of a New York Times exposé who responded: "Midway through this article, after reading stories of how employees going through devastating personal losses were treated, I cancelled my Audible membership, deleted my Kindle app, and will no longer be shopping from Amazon. I cannot support a company that so purposefully creates a negative environment for its employees. It's disgusting, it's immoral, and I hope others feel the same after reading this article."

So the technology – and its abuses – advanced.

The 2015 incidents rekindled that the old capitalist/communist controversy as still echoes from out of the past.  Could it really be so, as Marx and Engels asserted, that monopoly capitalism was the penultimate step towards a Utopia of scientific socialism promulgated by the dictatorship of the proletariat (long before the Soviet realization that dictators understood it’s more fun to be a dictator than a proletarian).

Which brings us to Mister Bezos and his second mentor…

 

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) has been identified by the BBC, among others, as father of that "rank and yank" policy, which defenders prefer to call Scientific Management (after a book written by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911).

According to the control-obsessed Taylor - who observed steel factory workers in the early 20th Century - the first principle of management was very simple, as the BBC article elucidated.  (See Attachment Five)

He wanted to scientifically measure every part of the job so that he understood it far better than the employee actually doing it. For this he used a stopwatch. Then he ranked each worker's output individually and rewarded… or, the Brits chose not to declare… punished them accordingly.

 

If the New York Times allegations were true, the BBC contended, “Amazon has simply taken a fairly traditional managerial creed - numerically record every human employee action in the workplace so that it can be completely controlled - and enlisted "big data" to invent a surveillance machine,” more or less upon the model first promulgated by Taylor in his 1911 manifesto: “The Principles of Scientific Management”.

Scientific management, Bloomberg informs us, “is often associated with the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor, who was born into a respectable Philadelphia family in 1856.”  Though he won admission to Harvard University, he became a lathe operator at Midvale Steel Works, a company known for producing high-end steel armaments, steam turbines, and other products that required utter precision.

William Sellers, the famed engineer who ran Midvale, was obsessed with the idea that his collection of workers and machines could function as a single organism bendable to his will on a daily basis. “He knew how to give an order and exact obedience,” recalled one associate after his death, “and only to those who showed the capacity to obey did he extend the authority to direct the management of his affairs, while over all he never failed to exercise a masterly control.”

Taylor proved obedient enough to move up the ranks at Midvale and, in 1881, he instituted the first of several time-motion studies, breaking down complicated tasks like cutting gears. “He scrutinized and timed each step of the process in the hopes (of) making things more efficient,” Bloomberg recalls, and carried a stopwatch with him, recording how many seconds it took workers to complete each step.

“Men will not do an extraordinary day’s work for an ordinary day’s pay,” Taylor later observed. He consequently instituted “differential wages” for workers. If they failed to live up to his production quotas, they would get paid less than the average. But if they exceeded his quota, they would be rewarded with much higher pay.

Amazon jettisoned the second half and, instead of paying by piecework, simply fired the less productive – “churning” his workforce to impose maximum fear… hence, maximum productivity (if not efficiency).

In 1898, a consulting gig at Bethlehem Steel cleared the way for his most famous efficiency study. The company hired unskilled workers to load ingots of pig iron onto railroad cars. When Taylor arrived, the average rate was 12.5 tons of iron per worker per day. Eager to increase efficiency, Taylor found a model worker named Henry Noll to shadow and evaluate, promising him a 60 percent wage increase if he complied with Taylor’s directives.   As Taylor studied Noll, stopwatch in hand, he identified slivers of time that he could trim from the regular routine. Soon, Noll was loading pig iron in precisely the way that Taylor expected, complete with regimented rest breaks. By the experiment’s end, Noll could load 48 tons of iron a day, a staggering increase in productivity.

(There has been no disclosure upon the topic of whether Mr. Noll received four times his hourly wage as a reward for loading so much pig iron.  Sources indicate that he may have received a premium of seventy cents per day to $1.85.

Further developments disclosed that many men couldn’t take the strain; others, though, managed, even if the new work regime exacted a grievous toll on their bodies. “This experiment, which many of Taylor’s critics held up as evidence of his inhumanity, nonetheless became the inspiration for countless such attempts at shaving time -- and money -- from industrial production.”

 

Vice (6/1/21) takes note of an Amazon pamphlet describing warehouse workers as “industrial athletes” and detailing how its Working Well program would help workers by laying out guidelines to “prepare their bodies” for walking “up to 13 miles a day” or lifting “a total of 20,000 pounds” during a shift.  

The pamphlet lays out six sections of interest to help prepare workers for laboring in a warehouse: nutrition, hydration, sleep, footwear, ergonomic work behavior, and injury prevention specialists. To wrap it up, there's a section simply titled "How Can I Feel Better?" that offers helpful tips such as stretching and getting a massage… Amazon also created “Zen Booths” (cages) for stressed out workers, even as managers “hire to fire” so they can hit certain turnover rate quotas.

On the question of nutrition, the Amazon pamphlet urges its industrial athletes to eat well because they'll be burning about 400 calories every hour. "Fatigue is often a large factor in injuries," the pamphlet explains. It includes a bunch of nutrition tips as well, such as eating whole grains, having 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables, but also keeping sodium down and potassium up.

new report by the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of some of the country's largest labor unions, found that in 2020 Amazon workers were severely injured more than 24,000 times, twice the rate of the rest of the warehouse industry nationwide. 

A family famous… not for Taylorism, but for a book and movie empire became the smiling sunshine face of Scientific Management.

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth became the best known disciples of Taylor. The parents of 12 children whose family life became the basis of the novel “Cheaper by the Dozen,” this husband-and-wife efficiency team took Taylor’s ideas and ran with them, inventing the modern “time-motion” study that is at the heart of Amazon’s obsession with eliminating wasteful movement.

Like Taylor, the Gilbreths used the stopwatch. But working as they did in the 1910s, they began documenting workers’ movements on film. This permitted them to identify very specific wasteful movements that workers could abandon in the name of greater efficiency. Toward that end, they began choreographing the most mundane of tasks: how a clerical employee filed paper in a cabinet, for example, or how an assembly line worker packed a box of sap.

“It’s hard to overstate how far efficiency engineers went to measure and surveil workers’ bodies,” (Jacobin). They used stopwatches, photographed and filmed workers, and tied lightbulbs to workers’ fingers in order to trace hand movements across long-exposure photographs. One engineer, (the aforesaid) Frank Gilbreth, disaggregated each finger, shoulder, and foot, plotting individual movements in units of a thousandth of a minute. Workers were made to study the evidence of their own inadequacies and learn better methods. Those who could not meet the new standards were fired.

Decades before the video camera appeared in workplaces — let alone software to monitor computer-based work — this proselyting network of consultants and engineers brought together mechanical surveillance, iterative performance review, management by data, and individual monitoring in experiments and widely distributed tracts.

“Cheaper By The Dozen” sold a lot of copies and was made into a motion picture… a 1950 comedy starring Clifton Webb, Myrna Loy and a dozen cute, highly disciplined moppets who, when… in a shocking twist… were orphaned after Frank suffered a fatal heart attack.

The workers, trained to act like Gilbreth machines tended to react in a different manner, Bloomberg deduced: “They grew to dislike their jobs.”

 

Frederick Taylor would have loved "big data" and the Anytime Feedback Tool. In his time, however, Taylor's ideas sparked widespread riots and although, Jacobin recalls, “the group fragmented due to internal differences, and its main institution — the Taylor Society — closed in 1936, it’s difficult to look at their archetypal patents and Amazon’s wristband technology and not see the connecting thread of scientific management.”

Will the data-led management fad exemplified by Amazon as delineated, once again, by the New York Times this month (the Washington Post, usually neck and neck with the Times has had a curious, but understandable, reluctance to scrutinize Amazon’s ins and outs and slippery places) do the same?

Again, apparently not.

As in the century past, outlying circumstances… in Taylor’s day, employee perception of their own status, determined whether or not a certain class (or even a whole industry) would submit or revolt.

When managers attempted to exert more control, Jacobin posits, “artisans collectively resisted, taking such intrusions as insults to their (masculinized) honor. In 1916, they successfully pressured the government to ban stopwatches and time-and-motion studies in federal arsenals.”

Shovelers — less organized and easier to replace — didn’t have the same capacity to combat Taylorism. One influential study found that they ended up heaving 270 percent more tonnage than before efficiency experts arrived. While machinists could lean on their craft and their unions, shovelers were at the mercy of their employers.

Today, however, it would seem that all fulfillment center workers at Amazon are shovelers.  (Jeff’s white collar drones are abused, too, but that is a different story – one which we shall leave to time, and to the contention of a peanut in the vast Amazon gallery.)   “(W)hether in its vast “fulfillment centers” (110 of them in America, 185 dotted across the globe) or in delivery, logistics or even in an executive capacity is to experience a living hell without the burden and/or release of death.”

 

In two reviews published in the liberal New Republic some three years ago, one Gabriel Winant tackles Scientific Management via Emily Guendelsberger’s “On The Clock”... which he deems successful… and Steve Fraser’s new essay collection, Mongrel Firebugs and Men of Property: Capitalism and Class Conflict in American History”… adjudged less so.

ON THE CLOCK: (WHAT LOW-WAGE WORK DID TO ME AND HOW IT DRIVES AMERICA INSANE) recounts Guendelsberger’s tenure at Amazon and a few other low-wage, lower-respect jobs – a tome which covers much of the same ground as Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickled and Dimed” (which Winant dismisses as “slumming”.  What Guendelsberger who, in addition to her stint at Amazon, toiled at a call center in North Carolina, and a McDonald’s in San Francisco, found in her experiment was that employers now “demand a workforce that can think, talk, feel, and pick stuff up like humans—but with as few needs outside of work as robots.

“The hidden moments of reclaimed freedom that make any job bearable are being discovered and wiped out by bosses everywhere,” “On The Clock” laments. The tricks employees use to slow down the machine don’t work anymore; that window of 23 minutes when you knew your boss couldn’t watch you is vanishing. “Whatever little piece of humanity survived in these fragments dies with them.”

On to “Moloch”, the name Fraser gives to this situation…“The Moloch of capitalism (being) as deadly and merciless as its Canaanite ancestor. But its altars are everywhere, virtually invisible yet part of the warp and woof of everyday life: at one moment prayed to on Wall Street, at another configuring the most hidden desires and anxieties of everyone’s emotional life.”

Here Fraser arrives at his great new (?) subject, the psychic economy of our time. Where the first “Gilded Age” saw enormous resistance to inequality, Fraser argues, ours has seen a distracted, demoralized culture of compliance. Economic risk-taking, positively stigmatized after the Great Depression, is now spoken of in heroic terms: To the risk-taker go the spoils. (Google “risk-taker”, reviewer Winant advised, and “try not to shudder at what you see.”)

Seen from Guendelsberger’s point of view, America’s working class is quivering in stress and fear, hurting from torn-up feet, and all covered in honey mustard. The economic miseries inflicted on working-class people are bad enough, but here Guendelsberger has identified something deeper and arguably worse: “Chronic stress drains people’s empathy, patience, and tolerance for new things.” We’ve been brutalized, bullied, and baited into being trained work-animals, Vox remarked, – monkeys, perhaps, working for bananas? – ‘and not even afforded a corresponding pay bump. No wonder our society fell apart.”

 

That many working class (mostly, but not all white) Americans hate themselves more than their bosses, hate the supercilious liberals who urge them to improve their situation by political action, hate their pasts, present and futures and, with a tip o’ the cap to Donald Trump, have pivoted (nay… swerved) from the class war discontents engendered by the Great Depression, to the hope of an inevitable race war against uppity Negroes, swarming migrants from the Spanish-speaking hellholes… and, of late, disease carrying and, as conspiracy theorists like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) allege, disease manufacturing Asians… has been repeatedly documented by the likes of Tim Libretti (who recalled to our attention Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”… See Attachment Six in May, 2019 – that springtime for Djonald before the plague), the Atlantic Monthly, the Brookings think tank, NPR and, from Unherd.com, a dollop to the repulsively woke middle management, academic and professional classes – just so they won’t feel left out when, perhaps in 2024, they slither into their polling places and vote to rehire Ol’ 45.  Even a post (2016) electoral autopsy by the WashPost as, without the slightest smirk or giggle of hypocrisy, alleges that: “These Americans (italics added – Don Jones understands, if little else, that once a liberal sneers ‘these people’, we’re talking a neo-liberal) think undeserving others are getting the benefits of a system at their expense, and they're sick of it.”

Like the sluggards at fulfillment centers?

 

What are the rubes and the rednecks to do?  New Republic reviewer Winant has a suggestion…

 

“Painfully, the most potent strand of resistance instead has been the right-wing populist outrage of the petit bourgeois against the “limousine liberal.” In the book’s later entries, Fraser explores this American demagogic tradition, finding Donald Trump’s clearest predecessor in William Randolph Hearst. Though here, too, he notes, irresponsible populism a century ago required a pro-labor posture. “Today’s right-wing populists are hardly about to invoke the anti-capitalism that impassioned the people Hearst counted on. On the contrary, what draws them to The Donald is that he is an übermensch risen atop the capitalist order.”

 

OK, scary stuff – stuff as justifies the reticence of Amazon’s proles to speak on the record while employed… fear which is justified given the company’s special treatment reserved for troublemakers.  Since Amazon, amazingly, has recorded (or admitted) relatively few incidents of workplace violence despite their managers obsession with (or concern for) their physical safety to the extent of publishing a virtual flood of pamphlets, treatises and warnings about worker retaliation (See this); the dominating paranoia and response has been generated over the potentiality of unionization.

What resistance has occurred since 2015 has predominately taken the form of griping to the media.  Taylor’s scientific management put unnecessary pressure on employees to perform work faster, Marketwatch contended.  “Importance was given to productivity and profitability. That resulted in exploitation of employees. Therefore, many employees joined trade unions.”

Unionization, however, has proven elusive.

 

The typical response of manual laborers… whether in the fields, the factories or the service industries… is (beyond holding a meandering march to nowher in the hope of recognition, not so intense as violent revolution) labor action… a strike.  Which requires a Union.  Which reqires certification.

Forbes, back in the day, intimated the existence of a “dark underbelly” of Scientific Management which 1) kills collaboration, 2) dehumanizes and demoralizes employees 3) is focused on near-sighted goals, and 4) destroys loyalty to the company

“The fear of loosing (sic) one's job or the constant competition with the very people one has to collaborate with in order to accomplish results” leads to “an erosion in the team dynamic,” contended the Times. Organizations resemble orchestras or sports team that need to collaborate to accomplish outcomes far greater than any individual alone is capable of achieving.  Scientific management aligns incentives inappropriately with too great of a focus on relative individual performance: "Employees are rewarded to tear apart one another in meetings and while the goal is to avoid politics the result often is a culture of cut-throat competition: "The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others...Because team members are ranked, and those at the bottom eliminated every year, it is in everyone’s interest to outperform everyone else....Many workers called it a river of intrigue and scheming. They described making quiet pacts with colleagues to bury the same person at once, or to praise one another lavishly."

When employees and especially managers do not believe that they will be with the company in the long run, perverse incentives flourish with the greatest focus on protecting oneself and short term results.  As for loyalty, loyalty to one’s wallet suffices, inasmuch as management by terror trumps, so to speak, outdated notions of teamwork and comradeship.

 

Forbes’ Stefanova, citing a blog by the Economist, described Amazon's culture as Digital Taylorism:  "Frederick Taylor was the most influential management guru of the early 20th century. His “Principles of Scientific Management” was the first management blockbuster. His fans included Henry Ford, who applied many of his ideas in his giant River Rouge car plant, and Vladimir Lenin, who regarded scientific management as one of the building blocks of socialism. Taylor’s appeal lay in his promise that management could be made into a science, and workers into cogs in an industrial machine. The best way to boost productivity, he argued, was to embrace three rules: break complex jobs down into simple ones; measure everything that workers do; and link pay to performance, giving bonuses to high-achievers and sacking sluggards."

But Amazon’s approach ignores one of the key tenets of scientific management (Bloomberg). Its creators genuinely believed that you had to pay higher wages to anyone asked to push themselves to their physical limits. “Amazon, though, has kept wages in its fulfillment centers at rock bottom, despite a work regimen that by many accounts has become more demanding, not less, over time.”

The revenue saved via low wages and even lower safety standards has been more than enough to cover the occasional claim won (or negotiated) with casualties of the fulfillment centers.  An investigation of safety records from 2018 for 23 of the company’s then 110 US warehouses found the rate of serious injuries for the facilities whose records he had was more than double the national average for the warehousing industry: 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time workers, compared with an industry average that year of 4.

Those rates were uneven: one of the warehouses, in Eastvale, California, had a rate four times the national average. Amazon does advise workers on how to safely move their bodies and handle equipment, but workers characterize these instructions as a joke.  (Jacobin – see Attachment Seven) It’s understood they must violate the rules to keep up with the rate, even if Amazon makes them sign paperwork saying they’ll follow the guidelines – the way truck drivers paid by the mile “conform” to government and corporate safety standards.  The reality of these working conditions is better suggested by Amazon telling workers to think of themselves as “industrial athletes” (the company claims the pamphlet that used this phrase was mistakenly distributed, though workers say it was available on-site for months, so that’s unlikely).

 

Consider, also… uh… let’s call it human liquid waste.  In a leaked Amazon pamphlet obtained by Motherboard and displayed to the public by Vice (See Attachment Eight), the company described warehouse workers as “industrial athletes” and details how its Working Well program would help workers by laying out guidelines to “prepare their bodies” for walking “up to 13 miles a day” or lifting “a total of 20,000 pounds” during a shift.  Officially, Amazon workers are allowed to take leaks of their own, but many say they are often unable to take bathroom breaks because of the job’s breakneck pace and urinate in bottles or defecate in bags. Despite this, Jeff’s wellness pamphlet says to carry a water bottle all day, drink about two liters of water each day from it, and to "monitor your urine color." Workers are also advised to maintain a healthy sleep schedule as it's "extremely important for injury prevention, healing, and overall health.” 

Except during Amazon Prime.

 

 

 


 

 

JULY 16 – JULY 22

 

 

Friday, July 16, 2021

 

Infected: 34,067,699

Dead:  608,882

 Dow:  34,687.85

 

 

It’s World Snake Day!  Hssssss!

   The Delta Variant is breaking through… three New York Yankees get it, as do the first of many Olympic athletes.  Surgeon General Murthy refuses to blame Ol ’45 for mass murder… “You don’t judge people for their beliefs.”  Arizona outlaws mask mandates.  But with vaxxes down 85% and cases up 70%, others are calling it “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

   FDA won’t approve vaxxes for children until Jan. 22.  TV Doctor Jha says that kids catch the plague from adults – but once school starts, all bets are off.  Kiddie pool in Texas closed after toxic bleach gets into the water; Djonald Unhydrated restrained from telling folks to drink it.  Bleach blond POThead arrested in plot to blow up California’s DNC headquarters.

   Wild weather persists, going global.  Fires west and flooding east in America but it’s worse in Germany where 1,300 are swept away and missing in a “hundred year flood” that destroys 500 year old buildings.  Heat dome back for 4th time in 4 weeks. 

 

 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

 

Infected:  34,079.660

Dead:  609,019

 

           

 

More than a million arrested at the border to date as Federal Judge in Texas overturns Obama’s Dreamers Act, setting the stage for six million deportations.  Low wage employers will luv that!

  President Joe refuses to send vaxxes to Cuba saying that the government will just confiscate and sell them.  Idiot Dems want to jam DACA tweak into already bloated Infrastructure bill.

   Identity thieves target Surfside dead.  Rain in Florida blamed for another condo roof collapse – no fatalities this time.

 

 

 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Infected:  34,132.071                  Dead:  609,231

                 

 

 

Tokyo Olympics seem a bigger disaster than ever.  More athletes and officials get it and, as temps top 100° in Tokyo, the uninfected bureaucrats advise athletes to drink water.  Polls show that the Japanese overwhelmingly want the games cancelled, but the IOC stands firm.  Stateside, Surgeon Gen. Murthy blames social media for spreading vaxxing disinformation.  LA reimposes lockdown saying: “This is not punishment, this is prevention.”  “This is not last year’s virus,” warns TV Dr. Collins.  “We have seen this movie before and we don’t like the ending.”

    Plague of one-six books begins; Michael Wolf compares the Capitol rioters to protesters back in 1968.  Nancy P. names six Democrats and Liz Cheney (R-Wy) to the investigatory panel… Kevin McCarthy coy on his five appointments (tho’ firebrands Marjorie Taylor-Green and Matt Gaetz are lobbying for slots).  Pundit Rick Klein expostulates on Sunday morning talkshows: says MTGs presence would make the hearings a “circus”, adding that President Joe’s Infrastructure/ DACA ploy is a sign that his administration is “collapsing”.  Still and all, an RCPoll says Don Joneses like him by a margin of 52-43 (but maybe just by comparison).

 

 

 

 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Infected:  34,174,774                 Dead:  609,529                        Dow:  33,962.04 

               

 

More Olympians and celebrities get it… U.S. tennis star Coco Gauff tests positive and is gone; so are Yankee gymnasts (maybe Simone?), more baseball and volleyball players and, despite UK opening up to raunchy, spready parties, so does BoJo.  He’s a breakthrough!  TV Dr. Agus says he doesn’t understand the “white world” of the anti-vaxxers… it’s the Party Of Trump, stupid (DJI).

   Summer shooters clean their guns and go hunting humans.  Bullets fly at Washington Nationals game, sending thousands of panicky fans running this way and that.  An active shooter in Arizona targets ambulance drivers, firefighters and cops.

   GOP vetoes crackdown on tax cheats.  Hits too close to home.

 

 

 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Infected: 34,226,806                    Dead:  609,862                              Dow:  34,511.94

 

 

It’s the 52nd anniversary of the Moon Landing and off into space goes Jeff.

   Down, down, down the toilet goes Dow Jones on fear of Delta (the variant, not the airline)… 725 point loss is worst since October.  President Joe assures Don Jones that inflation will only be temporary.

   More Olympians get it – Plague Village toll up to 71.  Dr. Fauci greenlights masks for schools, inasmuch as Delta is so contagious that it’s breaking through immunizing immunities and then spars with Rand Paul (R-Ky) who contends that NIH collaborated with Chinese to weaponize Covid to kill evil Americans.  More real and TV Doctors say J&J one shot is too weak, a second shot (of something else) is recommended (J&J, meanwhile, settles opioid kerfuffle for 25 B).  Meanwhile Mitchy pivots, says disbelieve the disinfo and get shot – while more denialists like Steve Scalise (R-La), & Sean Hannity (R-Fox) roll up their sleeves.

   Kevin McCarthy appoints five old, white Republicans to Nancy’s panel probing Capitol riots.  Trump’s campaign plotter Thomas Barrack busted as an agent of the UAE (not UAW).

 

 

 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

 Infected: 34,226,808                   Dead:  609,862                   Dow:  34,798.00 

Stock market wizards pivot, Dow shoots back up.  Plague?  What plague?

   Olympic Village toll up to 79 and assorted Japanese say they are “pondering” cancellation while official officials respond… change slogan, “Faster, Higher, Stronger” by adding “Together” and unveiling another: “A Celebration of Hope” (as in “Hope We Don’t Die”).  Problem solved.  (Ignore that 155% weekly increase in infections!)  Stateside, Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fl) also gets it.

  Nancy rejects two of McCarthy’s five picks for Riot Inquisition (Jim Jordan R-OH and Jim Banks R-In) as likely witnesses, if not suspects).  Kevin replies that he’ll take all his appointees, go home and start his own investigation.

 

 

 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

 Infected:  34,281,864                 Dead:  610,177               Dow:  34,823.35

  

 

As Tokyo collapses, IOC awards 2032 Games to Brisbane… Aussies rejoice.  Surely the plague will have run its course by then? Right?...

   Headed into tomorrow’s strange Opening Ceremonies, there are 91 denizens of the Olympic Village who’ve got it.  It would be more, maybe over a hundred, but inmates (like the US gymnasts) are fleeing in droves, checking into hotels or sleeping in Toyotas.  Officials not coughing themselves to death are being cashiered for racism, sexism, and bullying.  And a bear crashes the gate at Tokyo’s baseball stadium, takes a look around and leaves. 

   Of course things aren’t much better here… American case rate has tripled and seven of the so-called breakthrough vaxxees are dying every seven days.  Milwaukee celebrates with super spreader parties, Houston and Philadelphia are the latest re-masking zones and hospitality venues are anxiously awaiting the new lockdowns.  The weather remains bad, Washington can’t agree on anything, the Internet crashes and gunslingers still rule the streets and high ground.

   Time to turn to a dictator?  There’s at least one, waiting in the wings.

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the woodwork crawled job seekers… many looking for work, more finding it.  Wages have been remarkably stable for months despite the alleged plague shortage, but prices soared last week and, in the only category to be updated, housing prices and sales were also way, way up.  Good for owners, not so good for seekers.  (We only include car prices on the general inflation index, but they’re up too.  Blame the computer chip shortage… remember when cars were real, not cybernetic?)  And of course, speaking of technology, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos completed America’s one-two private rocket punch.  Jeff… our person of the week… garnered $28 million for one ticket but Branson, marketing at less than one percent of that, has a waiting list of over 700.

 

 

THE DON JONES INDEX

 

CHART of CATEGORIES w/VALUE ADDED to EQUAL BASELINE of 15,000

 

(REFLECTING… approximately… DOW JONES INDEX of June 27, 2013)

 

See a further explanation of categories here

 

ECONOMIC INDICES (60%)

 

 

DON JONES’ PERSONAL ECONOMIC INDEX

 

(45% of TOTAL INDEX POINTS)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CATEGORY

VALUE

BASE

RESULTS

SCORE

SCORE

OUR SOURCES and COMENTS

INCOME

24%

6/17/13

LAST

CHANGE

NEXT

7/16/21

 7/23/21

SOURCE 

Wages (hourly, per capita)

9%

1350 points

 7/16/21

   +0.31%

 7/30/21

1,453.83

1,453.83

https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/wages  25.68 nc

Median Income (yearly)

4%

600

 7/16/21

  +0.025%

 7/30/21

671.44

671.61

http://www.usdebtclock.org/   35,562

*Unempl. (BLS – in millions

4%

600

 7/16/21

   -1.70%

 7/30/21

339.87

339.87

http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000/  5.9%

*Official (DC – in millions)

2%

300

 7/16/21

     -7.76%

 7/30/21

412.04

444.03

http://www.usdebtclock.org/      8.796

*Unofficl. (DC – in millions)

2%

300

 7/16/21

   +6.18%

 7/30/21

378.12

354.75

http://www.usdebtclock.org/    16,356

Workforce Participtn.

     Number  

     Percent

2%

300

7/16/21

 

 +0.022%

 +0.005%

 7/30/21

 

316.43

 

316.45

In 151,708 Out 100,243 Total: 251,951

 

http://www.usdebtclock.org/ 60.21

WP %  (ycharts)*

1%

150

 7/16/21

+0.16%

 7/30/21

152.23

152.23

https://ycharts.com/indicators/labor_force_participation_rate  61.60 nc

OUTGO

(15%)

Total Inflation

7%

1050

 7/16/21

+0.9%

 7/30/21

994.09

985.14

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm     +0.9

Food

2%

300

 7/16/21

+0.8%

 7/30/21

280.33

278.09

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm     +0.8

Gasoline

2%

300

 7/16/21

 +2.5%

 7/30/21

275.69

268.80

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm      -2.5

Medical Costs

2%

300

 7/16/21

 nc

 7/30/21

287.06

287.06

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm        0

Shelter

2%

300

 7/16/21

+0.5%

 7/30/21

291.39

289.93

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm     +0.5

WEALTH

(6%)

 

Dow Jones Index

2%

300

 7/16/21

+0.40%

 7/30/21

377.01

375.50

https://www.wsj.com/market-data/quotes/index/DJIA 34,823.35

Home (Sales) 

   (Valuation)

1%

1%

150

150

 5/21/21

+1.03%

+3.71%

 7/30/21

168.55

176.33              

170.29

182.84              

https://www.nar.realtor/research-and-statistics

     Sales (M):  5.86  Valuations (K):  363.3 nc

Debt (Personal)

2%

300

 7/16/21

+0.25%

 7/30/21

274.13

273.43

http://www.usdebtclock.org/    64,352   516

 

AMERICAN ECONOMIC INDEX (15% of TOTAL INDEX POINTS) 

NATIONAL

(10%)

 

Revenue (trilns.)

2%

300

 7/16/21

+3.42%

 7/30/21

300.16          

310.42          

debtclock.org/       3,630

Expenditures (tr.)

2%

300

 7/16/21

+0.09%

 7/30/21

219.69

219.50

debtclock.org/       6,817

National Debt tr.)

3%

450

 7/16/21

+0.095%

 7/30/21

322.39

322.23

http://www.usdebtclock.org/    28,552

Aggregate Debt (tr.)

3%

450

 7/16/21

+0.09%

 7/30/21

370.92

370.56

http://www.usdebtclock.org/    85,327

GLOBAL

(5%)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foreign Debt (tr.)

2%

300

 7/16/21

  -0.15%

 7/30/21

292.02            

292.46            

http://www.usdebtclock.org/   7,094

Exports (in billions)

1%

150

 7/16/21

 +0.49%

 7/30/21

 182.97

 182.97

https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/index.html  206.0

Imports (bl.)

1%

150

 7/16/21

 - 1.23%

 7/30/21

 119.13

 119.13

https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/index.html  277.3

Trade Deficit (bl.)

1%

150

 7/16/21

 - 3.23%

 7/30/21

   97.15            

   97.15            

https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/index.html   71.2

 

SOCIAL INDICES (40%) 

 

ACTS of MAN

(12%)

 

World Affairs

3%

450

7/16/21

   +0.3%

 7/30/21

391.84

393.02

Gen. Milley allegedly stopped Djonald from starting a war with Iran new book reports.

Terrorism

2%

300

7/16/21

    -0.1%

 7/30/21

235.72

235.48

Rand Paul (R-Ky) accuses Dr. F and the whole NIH a bunch of Chinese saboteurs, deliberately producing and releasing the plague.

Politics

3%

450

7/16/21

   +0.1%

 7/30/21

439.93      

440.37      

RCPoll says Americans (sort of) like President Joe, 52-43 – better, at least, than Trump.  Gov. Cuomo (D-NY) not so much, sexvestigators swarming.  GOP vetoes stronger enforcement of tax cheat laws and minority leader McCarthy appoints five old white men to riot panel.  When Nancy throws out two of them for election denial, Kevin picks up the rest of his marbles and goes home.  MT-G and Gaetz renew hope of being on his alternate reality panel. 

Economics

3%

450

7/16/21

    +0.2%

 7/30/21

402.98   

403.79   

Atlantic City sets gaming record.  Idiots want to pollute budget legislation with DACA diversion.  Fortunately, America hasn’t (yet) devolved back to horses - heat has cut oat crop in half.  Businesses seek prison labor as solution to low-wage worker shortage (bring back those 10 years for one joint marijuana prosecutions).

Crime

1%

150

7/16/21

     -0.3%

 7/30/21

246.77

246.03

Cop in Levelland TX killed in gunfight.  More gunplay at Nationals’ stadium – 3 shot in 6th inning and a psycho shoots up the Milwaukee Bucks’ street celebration.   Six year old girl killed and five more shot in DC – Chicago trumps them with 17.  LA offers reward for hit/run killer of popular podcaster.  NYC mom saves 5 year old from kidnappers.  Despicable ID thieves target Surfside dead.  Reservations.com accused of defrauding travelers.  Candle thief sprays witnesses with bear mace.

 

ACTS of GOD

 

(6%)

 

Environment/Weather

3%

450

 7/16/21

     -0.5%

 7/30/21

408.14

406.10

Heat migrates to upper Rockies – Billings MT hits 104° - but it’s a dry (ie fiery) heat.  Glaciers in Glacier National Park will be gone by 2100.  Amidst the heat, Taco Bell admits to having a shortage of “anything that comes fresh”.  The water is all in Germany and China where massive floods occur.

Natural/Unnatural Disaster

3%

450

 7/16/21

    -0.5%

 7/30/21

406.51

404.48

Tornado destroys town near Toronto.  Salt Lake City experiences a plague of grasshoppers.  Chlorine hoarding provokes toxic incidents.  Bleach (not a Covid cure) contaminates kiddie pool in Texas – 60 have to be decontaminated.  More die after carbon monoxide poisons country music fest in Michigan.  TSA reports 3,509 airline “incidents of bad behavior” on planes, mostly mask-related brawls,

 

LIFESTYLE/JUSTICE INDEX   (15%)

 

Science, Tech, Education

4%

600

 7/16/21

+0.2%

 7/30/21

670.61

671.95

Blue Origen goes up, comes down.  Unvaxxed kids at risk amid chaotic school reopenings.  President Joe alleges FaceBook is killing people with disinfo.  Civil libertarians express concern about “deep fake” technology in Anthony Bourdain biopic with computer imaging. 

Equality (econ/social)

4%

600

 7/16/21

    -0.2%

 7/30/21

564.41

563.28

First Capitol rioter conviction – 8 months.  Fed. Judge Andrew Hammon overturns DACA.  Deportations loom.  “Hunt ‘em down and kick ‘em out!”  Violent protests over trans rights at LA spa.

Health

 

     

 

 

Plague

4%

600

 7/16/21

 -0.3%

 

 

 

 

 -0.3%

 7/30/21

503.24

 

 

 

 

- 101.59

 

501.73

 

 

 

 

- 101.89

 

As if the plague wasn’t enough, Dallas reports outbreak of monkeypox, carcinogenic anti-smoking drug Chantix and listeria’d muffins from WalMart recalled.  Dr. Murtha claims Big Tech algorithms for spreading misinformation.  Dr. Agus says he doesn’t under the “white world” of anti-vzxxing. Ford recalls 700,000 vehicles for wobbly steering..

 

Mitchy pivots, gets shot up, as do assorted friends of Fox.  TV Doctor Jha and CDC’s Wallensky urge kiddie vaxxing speedup.  Lambda variant gaining a foothold in Texas.  J&J one shot vax deemed inadequate, vaxxees advised to take boosters of something else.  Paris and London re-opening, but for how long?  Tokyo collapsing into epic fail – tennis star Coco Gauff gets it and Japanese polls show the overwhelming majority of locals say “shut it down”.  Their response is to unveil new slogans like: “a celebration of hope”.  (Hope I don’t die.)  The five runaway Texas legislators hiding in DC get it, pass it on to Democratic insiders.

 

Freedom and Justice

3%

450

 7/16/21

nc

 7/30/21

461.87

461.87

Trump inaugural choreographer Barrack indicted as being a secret agent working the UAE.  Harvey Weinstein exported to Cal. to face more sex crime charges.

 

MISCELLANEOUS and TRANSIENT INDEX           (7%)

 

Cultural incidents

3%

450

 7/16/21

+0.5%

 7/30/21

519.50

522.10

NFL star Richard Sherman goes on a bender, attacks in-laws, goes to jail.  12 year skateboarder wins X Games.  Bucks celebrate NBA title win over Suns; Naomi Osaka celebrates Sports Illustrated cover. “Black Widow” becomes 4th flick to top $100M first week out (in 2019 there were 29).  RIP flamboyant Louisiana Gov. Edwards, rapper Biz Markie, rassler Paul Orndorff and Kurt Westegaard. anti-Islamist cartoonist.

   Finally a little good news: singers Bette Midler and Joni Mitchell, SNL czar Lorne Michaels, Motown’s Berry Gordy and opera singer Justino Diaz will be Kennedy Center honorees.

Miscellaneous incidents

4%

450

 7/16/21

 +0.2%

 7/30/21

484.53

485.50

Indy Colts owner Robert Irsay buys Elton John’s piano for $915,000.  Sentimentalists gush over baby hippo and baby gorilla.  Even woke-r animal advocates call the term “shark attacks” racist and speciesist, demand the alternative “shark encounters”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Don Jones Index for the week of July 16th through July 22nd, 2021 was UP 25.11 points.

 

The Don Jones Index is sponsored by the Coalition for a New Consensus: retired Congressman and Independent Presidential candidate Jack “Catfish” Parnell, Chairman; Brian Doohan, Administrator.  The CNC denies, emphatically, allegations that the organization, as well as any of its officers (including former Congressman Parnell, environmentalist/America-Firster Austin Tillerman and cosmetics CEO Rayna Finch) and references to Parnell’s works, “Entropy and Renaissance” and “The Coming Kill-Off” are fictitious or, at best, mere pawns in the web-serial “Black Helicopters” – and promise swift, effective legal action against parties promulgating this and/or other such slanders.

Comments, complaints, donations (especially SUPERPAC donations) always welcome at feedme@generisis.com or: speak@donjonesindex.com

 

 

 

 

ATTACHMENT ONE (A) – From the New York Times

 

 

SEATTLE — On Monday mornings, fresh recruits line up for an orientation intended to catapult them into Amazon’s singular way of working.

They are told to forget the “poor habits” they learned at previous jobs, one employee recalled. When they “hit the wall” from the unrelenting pace, there is only one solution: “Climb the wall,” others reported. To be the best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership principles, 14 rules inscribed on handy laminated cards. When quizzed days later, those with perfect scores earn a virtual award proclaiming, “I’m Peculiar” — the company’s proud phrase for overturning workplace conventions.

At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”)

Many of the newcomers filing in on Mondays may not be there in a few years. The company’s winners dream up innovations that they roll out to a quarter-billion customers and accrue small fortunes in soaring stock. Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff — “purposeful Darwinism,” one former Amazon human resources director said. Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover.

Even as the company tests delivery by drone and ways to restock toilet paper at the push of a bathroom button, it is conducting a little-known experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable. The company, founded and still run by Jeff Bezos, rejects many of the popular management bromides that other corporations at least pay lip service to and has instead designed what many workers call an intricate machine propelling them to achieve Mr. Bezos’ ever-expanding ambitions.

“This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren’t easy,” said Susan Harker, Amazon’s top recruiter. “When you’re shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn’t work.”

Bo Olson was one of them. He lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. “You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,” he said. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

Thanks in part to its ability to extract the most from employees, Amazon is stronger than ever. Its swelling campus is transforming a swath of this city, a 10-million-square-foot bet that tens of thousands of new workers will be able to sell everything to everyone everywhere. Last month, it eclipsed Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the country, with a market valuation of $250 billion, and Forbes deemed Mr. Bezos the fifth-wealthiest person on earth.

Tens of millions of Americans know Amazon as customers, but life inside its corporate offices is largely a mystery. Secrecy is required; even low-level employees sign a lengthy confidentiality agreement. The company authorized only a handful of senior managers to talk to reporters for this article, declining requests for interviews with Mr. Bezos and his top leaders.

However, more than 100 current and former Amazonians — members of the leadership team, human resources executives, marketers, retail specialists and engineers who worked on projects from the Kindle to grocery delivery to the recent mobile phone launch — described how they tried to reconcile the sometimes-punishing aspects of their workplace with what many called its thrilling power to create.

In interviews, some said they thrived at Amazon precisely because it pushed them past what they thought were their limits. Many employees are motivated by “thinking big and knowing that we haven’t scratched the surface on what’s out there to invent,” said Elisabeth Rommel, a retail executive who was one of those permitted to speak.

Others who cycled in and out of the company said that what they learned in their brief stints helped their careers take off. And more than a few who fled said they later realized they had become addicted to Amazon’s way of working.

“A lot of people who work there feel this tension: It’s the greatest place I hate to work,” said John Rossman, a former executive there who published a book, “The Amazon Way.

Amazon may be singular but perhaps not quite as peculiar as it claims. It has just been quicker in responding to changes that the rest of the work world is now experiencing: data that allows individual performance to be measured continuously, come-and-go relationships between employers and employees, and global competition in which empires rise and fall overnight. Amazon is in the vanguard of where technology wants to take the modern office: more nimble and more productive, but harsher and less forgiving.

“Organizations are turning up the dial, pushing their teams to do more for less money, either to keep up with the competition or just stay ahead of the executioner’s blade,” said Clay Parker Jones, a consultant who helps old-line businesses become more responsive to change.

On a recent morning, as Amazon’s new hires waited to begin orientation, few of them seemed to appreciate the experiment in which they had enrolled. Only one, Keith Ketzle, a freckled Texan triathlete with an M.B.A., lit up with recognition, explaining how he left his old, lumbering company for a faster, grittier one.

“Conflict brings about innovation,” he said.

A Philosophy of Work

Jeff Bezos turned to data-driven management very early.

He wanted his grandmother to stop smoking, he recalled in a 2010 graduation speech at Princeton. He didn’t beg or appeal to sentiment. He just did the math, calculating that every puff cost her a few minutes. “You’ve taken nine years off your life!” he told her. She burst into tears.

He was 10 at the time. Decades later, he created a technological and retail giant by relying on some of the same impulses: eagerness to tell others how to behave; an instinct for bluntness bordering on confrontation; and an overarching confidence in the power of metrics, buoyed by his experience in the early 1990s at D. E. Shaw, a financial firm that overturned Wall Street convention by using algorithms to get the most out of every trade.

According to early executives and employees, Mr. Bezos was determined almost from the moment he founded Amazon in 1994 to resist the forces he thought sapped businesses over time — bureaucracy, profligate spending, lack of rigor. As the company grew, he wanted to codify his ideas about the workplace, some of them proudly counterintuitive, into instructions simple enough for a new worker to understand, general enough to apply to the nearly limitless number of businesses he wanted to enter and stringent enough to stave off the mediocrity he feared.

The result was the leadership principles, the articles of faith that describe the way Amazonians should act. In contrast to companies where declarations about their philosophy amount to vague platitudes, Amazon has rules that are part of its daily language and rituals, used in hiring, cited at meetings and quoted in food-truck lines at lunchtime. Some Amazonians say they teach them to their children.

The guidelines conjure an empire of elite workers (principle No. 5: “Hire and develop the best”) who hold one another to towering expectations and are liberated from the forces — red tape, office politics — that keep them from delivering their utmost. Employees are to exhibit “ownership” (No. 2), or mastery of every element of their businesses, and “dive deep,” (No. 12) or find the underlying ideas that can fix problems or identify new services before shoppers even ask for them.

The workplace should be infused with transparency and precision about who is really achieving and who is not. Within Amazon, ideal employees are often described as “athletes” with endurance, speed (No. 8: “bias for action”), performance that can be measured and an ability to defy limits (No. 7: “think big”).

“You can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three,” Mr. Bezos wrote in his 1997 letter to shareholders, when the company sold only books, and which still serves as a manifesto. He added that when he interviewed potential hires, he warned them, “It’s not easy to work here.”

Mr. Rossman, the former executive, said that Mr. Bezos was addressing a meeting in 2003 when he turned in the direction of Microsoft, across the water from Seattle, and said he didn’t want Amazon to become “a country club.” If Amazon becomes like Microsoft, “we would die,” Mr. Bezos added.

 

While the Amazon campus appears similar to those of some tech giants — with its dog-friendly offices, work force that skews young and male, on-site farmers’ market and upbeat posters — the company is considered a place apart. Google and Facebook motivate employees with gyms, meals and benefits, like cash handouts for new parents, “designed to take care of the whole you,” as Google puts it.

Amazon, though, offers no pretense that catering to employees is a priority. Compensation is considered competitive — successful midlevel managers can collect the equivalent of an extra salary from grants of a stock that has increased more than tenfold since 2008. But workers are expected to embrace “frugality” (No. 9), from the bare-bones desks to the cellphones and travel expenses that they often pay themselves. (No daily free food buffets or regular snack supplies, either.) The focus is on relentless striving to please customers, or “customer obsession” (No. 1), with words like “mission” used to describe lightning-quick delivery of Cocoa Krispies or selfie sticks.

As the company has grown, Mr. Bezos has become more committed to his original ideas, viewing them in almost moral terms, those who have worked closely with him say. “My main job today: I work hard at helping to maintain the culture,” Mr. Bezos said last year at a conference run by Business Insider, a web publication in which he is an investor.

Of all of his management notions, perhaps the most distinctive is his belief that harmony is often overvalued in the workplace — that it can stifle honest critique and encourage polite praise for flawed ideas. Instead, Amazonians are instructed to “disagree and commit” (No. 13) — to rip into colleagues’ ideas, with feedback that can be blunt to the point of painful, before lining up behind a decision.

“We always want to arrive at the right answer,” said Tony Galbato, vice president for human resources, in an email statement. “It would certainly be much easier and socially cohesive to just compromise and not debate, but that may lead to the wrong decision.”

At its best, some employees said, Amazon can feel like the Bezos vision come to life, a place willing to embrace risk and strengthen ideas by stress test. Employees often say their co-workers are the sharpest, most committed colleagues they have ever met, taking to heart instructions in the leadership principles like “never settle” and “no task is beneath them.” Even relatively junior employees can make major contributions. The new delivery-by-drone project announced in 2013, for example, was coinvented by a low-level engineer named Daniel Buchmueller.

Last August, Stephenie Landry, an operations executive, joined in discussions about how to shorten delivery times and developed an idea for rushing goods to urban customers in an hour or less. One hundred eleven days later, she was in Brooklyn directing the start of the new service, Prime Now.

“A customer was able to get an Elsa doll that they could not find in all of New York City, and they had it delivered to their house in 23 minutes,” said Ms. Landry, who was authorized by the company to speak, still sounding exhilarated months later about providing “Frozen” dolls in record time.

That becomes possible, she and others said, when everyone follows the dictates of the leadership principles. “We’re trying to create those moments for customers where we’re solving a really practical need,” Ms. Landry said, “in this way that feels really futuristic and magical.”

Motivating the ‘Amabots

Company veterans often say the genius of Amazon is the way it drives them to drive themselves. “If you’re a good Amazonian, you become an Amabot,” said one employee, using a term that means you have become at one with the system.

In Amazon warehouses, employees are monitored by sophisticated electronic systems to ensure they are packing enough boxes every hour. (Amazon came under fire in 2011 when workers in an eastern Pennsylvania warehouse toiled in more than 100-degree heat with ambulances waiting outside, taking away laborers as they fell. After an investigation by the local newspaper, the company installed air-conditioning.)

But in its offices, Amazon uses a self-reinforcing set of management, data and psychological tools to spur its tens of thousands of white-collar employees to do more and more. “The company is running a continual performance improvement algorithm on its staff,” said Amy Michaels, a former Kindle marketer.

The process begins when Amazon’s legions of recruiters identify thousands of job prospects each year, who face extra screening by “bar raisers,” star employees and part-time interviewers charged with ensuring that only the best are hired. As the newcomers acclimate, they often feel dazzled, flattered and intimidated by how much responsibility the company puts on their shoulders and how directly Amazon links their performance to the success of their assigned projects, whether selling wine or testing the delivery of packages straight to shoppers’ car trunks.

Every aspect of the Amazon system amplifies the others to motivate and discipline the company’s marketers, engineers and finance specialists: the leadership principles; rigorous, continuing feedback on performance; and the competition among peers who fear missing a potential problem or improvement and race to answer an email before anyone else.

Some veterans interviewed said they were protected from pressures by nurturing bosses or worked in relatively slow divisions. But many others said the culture stoked their willingness to erode work-life boundaries, castigate themselves for shortcomings (being “vocally self-critical” is included in the description of the leadership principles) and try to impress a company that can often feel like an insatiable taskmaster. Even many Amazonians who have worked on Wall Street and at start-ups say the workloads at the new South Lake Union campus can be extreme: marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends.

“One time I didn’t sleep for four days straight,” said Dina Vaccari, who joined in 2008 to sell Amazon gift cards to other companies and once used her own money, without asking for approval, to pay a freelancer in India to enter data so she could get more done. “These businesses were my babies, and I did whatever I could to make them successful.”

She and other workers had no shortage of career options but said they had internalized Amazon’s priorities. One ex-employee’s fiancé became so concerned about her nonstop working night after night that he would drive to the Amazon campus at 10 p.m. and dial her cellphone until she agreed to come home. When they took a vacation to Florida, she spent every day at Starbucks using the wireless connection to get work done.

“That’s when the ulcer started,” she said. (Like several other former workers, the woman requested that her name not be used because her current company does business with Amazon. Some current employees were reluctant to be identified because they were barred from speaking with reporters.)

To prod employees, Amazon has a powerful lever: more data than any retail operation in history. Its perpetual flow of real-time, ultradetailed metrics allows the company to measure nearly everything its customers do: what they put in their shopping carts, but do not buy; when readers reach the “abandon point” in a Kindle book; and what they will stream based on previous purchases. It can also tell when engineers are not building pages that load quickly enough, or when a vendor manager does not have enough gardening gloves in stock.

“Data creates a lot of clarity around decision-making,” said Sean Boyle, who runs the finance division of Amazon Web Services and was permitted by the company to speak. “Data is incredibly liberating.”

Amazon employees are held accountable for a staggering array of metrics, a process that unfolds in what can be anxiety-provoking sessions called business reviews, held weekly or monthly among various teams. A day or two before the meetings, employees receive printouts, sometimes up to 50 or 60 pages long, several workers said. At the reviews, employees are cold-called and pop-quizzed on any one of those thousands of numbers.

Explanations like “we’re not totally sure” or “I’ll get back to you” are not acceptable, many employees said. Some managers sometimes dismissed such responses as “stupid” or told workers to “just stop it.” The toughest questions are often about getting to the bottom of “cold pricklies,” or email notifications that inform shoppers that their goods won’t arrive when promised — the opposite of the “warm fuzzy” sensation of consumer satisfaction.

The sessions crowd out other work, many workers complain. But they also say that is part of the point: The meetings force them to absorb the metrics of their business, their minds swimming with details.

“Once you know something isn’t as good as it could be, why wouldn’t you want to fix it?” said Julie Todaro, who led some of Amazon’s largest retail categories.

Employees talk of feeling how their work is never done or good enough. One Amazon building complex is named Day 1, a reminder from Mr. Bezos that it is only the beginning of a new era of commerce, with much more to accomplish.

In 2012, Chris Brucia, who was working on a new fashion sale site, received a punishing performance review from his boss, a half-hour lecture on every goal he had not fulfilled and every skill he had not yet mastered. Mr. Brucia silently absorbed the criticism, fearing he was about to be managed out, wondering how he would tell his wife.

“Congratulations, you’re being promoted,” his boss finished, leaning in for a hug that Mr. Brucia said he was too shocked to return.

Noelle Barnes, who worked in marketing for Amazon for nine years, repeated a saying around campus: “Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.”

A Running Competition

In 2013, Elizabeth Willet, a former Army captain who served in Iraq, joined Amazon to manage housewares vendors and was thrilled to find that a large company could feel so energetic and entrepreneurial. After she had a child, she arranged with her boss to be in the office from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day, pick up her baby and often return to her laptop later. Her boss assured her things were going well, but her colleagues, who did not see how early she arrived, sent him negative feedback accusing her of leaving too soon.

“I can’t stand here and defend you if your peers are saying you’re not doing your work,” she says he told her. She left the company after a little more than a year.

Ms. Willet’s co-workers strafed her through the Anytime Feedback Tool, the widget in the company directory that allows employees to send praise or criticism about colleagues to management. (While bosses know who sends the comments, their identities are not typically shared with the subjects of the remarks.) Because team members are ranked, and those at the bottom eliminated every year, it is in everyone’s interest to outperform everyone else.

Craig Berman, an Amazon spokesman, said the tool was just another way to provide feedback, like sending an email or walking into a manager’s office. Most comments, he said, are positive.

However, many workers called it a river of intrigue and scheming. They described making quiet pacts with colleagues to bury the same person at once, or to praise one another lavishly. Many others, along with Ms. Willet, described feeling sabotaged by negative comments from unidentified colleagues with whom they could not argue. In some cases, the criticism was copied directly into their performance reviews — a move that Amy Michaels, the former Kindle manager, said that colleagues called “the full paste.”

Soon the tool, or something close, may be found in many more offices. Workday, a human resources software company, makes a similar product called Collaborative Anytime Feedback that promises to turn the annual performance review into a daily event. One of the early backers of Workday was Jeff Bezos, in one of his many investments. (He also owns The Washington Post.)

The rivalries at Amazon extend beyond behind-the-back comments. Employees say that the Bezos ideal, a meritocracy in which people and ideas compete and the best win, where co-workers challenge one another “even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting,” as the leadership principles note, has turned into a world of frequent combat.

Resources are sometimes hoarded. That includes promising job candidates, who are especially precious at a company with a high number of open positions. To get new team members, one veteran said, sometimes “you drown someone in the deep end of the pool,” then take his or her subordinates. Ideas are critiqued so harshly in meetings at times that some workers fear speaking up.

David Loftesness, a senior developer, said he admired the customer focus but could not tolerate the hostile language used in many meetings, a comment echoed by many others.

 

For years, he and his team devoted themselves to improving the search capabilities of Amazon’s website — only to discover that Mr. Bezos had greenlighted a secret competing effort to build an alternate technology. “I’m not going to be the kind of person who can work in this environment,” he said he concluded. He went on to become a director of engineering at Twitter.

Each year, the internal competition culminates at an extended semi-open tournament called an Organization Level Review, where managers debate subordinates’ rankings, assigning and reassigning names to boxes in a matrix projected on the wall. In recent years, other large companies, including Microsoft, General Electric and Accenture Consulting, have dropped the practice — often called stack ranking, or “rank and yank” — in part because it can force managers to get rid of valuable talent just to meet quotas.

The review meeting starts with a discussion of the lower-level employees, whose performance is debated in front of higher-level managers. As the hours pass, successive rounds of managers leave the room, knowing that those who remain will determine their fates.

Preparing is like getting ready for a court case, many supervisors say: To avoid losing good members of their teams — which could spell doom — they must come armed with paper trails to defend the wrongfully accused and incriminate members of competing groups. Or they adopt a strategy of choosing sacrificial lambs to protect more essential players. “You learn how to diplomatically throw people under the bus,” said a marketer who spent six years in the retail division. “It’s a horrible feeling.”

Mr. Galbato, the human resources executive, explained the company’s reasoning for the annual staff paring. “We hire a lot of great people,” he said in an email, “but we don’t always get it right.”

Dick Finnegan, a consultant who advises companies on how to retain employees, warns of the costs of mandatory cuts. “If you can build an organization with zero deadwood, why wouldn’t you do it?” he asked. “But I don’t know how sustainable it is. You’d have to have a never-ending two-mile line around the block of very qualified people who want to work for you.”

Many women at Amazon attribute its gender gap — unlike Facebook, Google or Walmart, it does not currently have a single woman on its top leadership team — to its competition-and-elimination system. Several former high-level female executives, and other women participating in a recent internal Amazon online discussion that was shared with The New York Times, said they believed that some of the leadership principles worked to their disadvantage. They said they could lose out in promotions because of intangible criteria like “earn trust” (principle No. 10) or the emphasis on disagreeing with colleagues. Being too forceful, they said, can be particularly hazardous for women in the workplace.

Motherhood can also be a liability. Michelle Williamson, a 41-year-old parent of three who helped build Amazon’s restaurant supply business, said her boss, Shahrul Ladue, had told her that raising children would most likely prevent her from success at a higher level because of the long hours required. Mr. Ladue, who confirmed her account, said that Ms. Williamson had been directly competing with younger colleagues with fewer commitments, so he suggested she find a less demanding job at Amazon. (Both he and Ms. Williamson left the company.)

He added that he usually worked 85 or more hours a week and rarely took a vacation.

When ‘All’ Isn’t Good Enough

Molly Jay, an early member of the Kindle team, said she received high ratings for years. But when she began traveling to care for her father, who was suffering from cancer, and cut back working on nights and weekends, her status changed. She was blocked from transferring to a less pressure-filled job, she said, and her boss told her she was “a problem.” As her father was dying, she took unpaid leave to care for him and never returned to Amazon.

“When you’re not able to give your absolute all, 80 hours a week, they see it as a major weakness,” she said.

A woman who had thyroid cancer was given a low performance rating after she returned from treatment. She says her manager explained that while she was out, her peers were accomplishing a great deal. Another employee who miscarried twins left for a business trip the day after she had surgery. “I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done,” she said her boss told her. “From where you are in life, trying to start a family, I don’t know if this is the right place for you.”

A woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a “performance improvement plan” — Amazon code for “you’re in danger of being fired” — because “difficulties” in her “personal life” had interfered with fulfilling her work goals. Their accounts echoed others from workers who had suffered health crises and felt they had also been judged harshly instead of being given time to recover.

A former human resources executive said she was required to put a woman who had recently returned after undergoing serious surgery, and another who had just had a stillborn child, on performance improvement plans, accounts that were corroborated by a co-worker still at Amazon. “What kind of company do we want to be?” the executive recalled asking her bosses.

The mother of the stillborn child soon left Amazon. “I had just experienced the most devastating event in my life,” the woman recalled via email, only to be told her performance would be monitored “to make sure my focus stayed on my job.”

Mr. Berman, the spokesman, said such responses to employees’ crises were “not our policy or practice.” He added, “If we were to become aware of anything like that, we would take swift action to correct it.” Amazon also made Ms. Harker, the top recruiter, available to describe the leadership team’s strong support over the last two years as her husband battled a rare cancer. “It took my breath away,” she said.

Several employment lawyers in the Seattle area said they got regular calls from Amazon workers complaining of unfair treatment, including those who said they had been pushed out for “not being sufficiently devoted to the company,” said Michael Subit. But that is not a basis for a suit by itself, he said. “Unfairness is not illegal,” echoed Sara Amies, another lawyer. Without clear evidence of discrimination, it is difficult to win a suit based on a negative evaluation, she said.

For all of the employees who are edged out, many others flee, exhausted or unwilling to further endure the hardships for the cause of delivering swim goggles and rolls of Scotch tape to customers just a little quicker.

Jason Merkoski, 42, an engineer, worked on the team developing the first Kindle e-reader and served as a technology evangelist for Amazon, traveling the world to learn how people used the technology so it could be improved. He left Amazon in 2010 and then returned briefly in 2014.

“The sheer number of innovations means things go wrong, you need to rectify, and then explain, and heaven help if you got an email from Jeff,” he said. “It’s as if you’ve got the C.E.O. of the company in bed with you at 3 a.m. breathing down your neck.”

A Stream of Departures

Amazon retains new workers in part by requiring them to repay a part of their signing bonus if they leave within a year, and a portion of their hefty relocation fees if they leave within two years. Several fathers said they left or were considering quitting because of pressure from bosses or peers to spend less time with their families. (Many tech companies are racing to top one another’s family leave policies — Netflix just began offering up to a year of paid parental leave. Amazon, though, offers no paid paternity leave.)

In interviews, 40-year-old men were convinced Amazon would replace them with 30-year-olds who could put in more hours, and 30-year-olds were sure that the company preferred to hire 20-somethings who would outwork them. After Max Shipley, a father of two young children, left this spring, he wondered if Amazon would “bring in college kids who have fewer commitments, who are single, who have more time to focus on work.” Mr. Shipley is 25.

Amazon insists its reputation for high attrition is misleading. A 2013 survey by PayScale, a salary analysis firm, put the median employee tenure at one year, among the briefest in the Fortune 500. Amazon officials insisted tenure was low because hiring was so robust, adding that only 15 percent of employees had been at the company more than five years. Turnover is consistent with others in the technology industry, they said, but declined to disclose any data.

Employees, human resources executives and recruiters describe a steady exodus. “The pattern of burn and churn at Amazon, resulting in a disproportionate number of candidates from Amazon showing at our doorstep, is clear and consistent,” Nimrod Hoofien, a director of engineering at Facebook and an Amazon veteran, said in a recent Facebook post.

Those departures are not a failure of the system, many current and former employees say, but rather the logical conclusion: mass intake of new workers, who help the Amazon machine spin and then wear out, leaving the most committed Amazonians to survive.

“Purposeful Darwinism,” Robin Andrulevich, a former top Amazon human resources executive who helped draft the Leadership Principles, posted in reply to Mr. Hoofien’s comment. “They never could have done what they’ve accomplished without that,” she said in an interview, referring to Amazon’s cycle of constantly hiring employees, driving them and cutting them.

“Amazon is O.K. with moving through a lot of people to identify and retain superstars,” said Vijay Ravindran, who worked at the retailer for seven years, the last two as the manager overseeing the checkout technology. “They keep the stars by offering a combination of incredible opportunities and incredible compensation. It’s like panning for gold.”

The employees who stream from the Amazon exits are highly desirable because of their work ethic, local recruiters say. In recent years, companies like Facebook have opened large Seattle offices, and they benefit from the Amazon outflow.

Recruiters, though, also say that other businesses are sometimes cautious about bringing in Amazon workers, because they have been trained to be so combative. The derisive local nickname for Amazon employees is “Amholes” — pugnacious and work-obsessed.

Call them what you will, their ranks are rapidly increasing. Amazon is finishing a 37-floor office tower near its South Lake Union campus and building another tower next to it. It plans a third next to that and has space for two more high-rises. By the time the dust settles in three years, Amazon will have enough space for 50,000 employees or so, more than triple what it had as recently as 2013.

Those new workers will strive to make Amazon the first trillion-dollar retailer, in the hope that just about everyone will be watching Amazon movies and playing Amazon games on Amazon tablets while they tell their Amazon Echo communications device that they need an Amazon-approved plumber and new lawn chairs, and throw in some Amazon potato chips as well.

Maybe it will happen. Liz Pearce spent two years at Amazon, managing projects like its wedding registry. “The pressure to deliver far surpasses any other metric,” she said. “I would see people practically combust.”

But just as Jeff Bezos was able to see the future of e-commerce before anyone else, she added, he was able to envision a new kind of workplace: fluid but tough, with employees staying only a short time and employers demanding the maximum.

“Amazon is driven by data,” said Ms. Pearce, who now runs her own Seattle software company, which is well stocked with ex-Amazonians. “It will only change if the data says it must — when the entire way of hiring and working and firing stops making economic sense.”

The retailer is already showing some strain from its rapid growth. Even for entry-level jobs, it is hiring on the East Coast, and many employees are required to hand over all their contacts to company recruiters at “LinkedIn” parties. In Seattle alone, more than 4,500 jobs are open, including one for an analyst specializing in “high-volume hiring.”

Some companies, faced with such an overwhelming need for new bodies, might scale back their ambitions or soften their message.

Not Amazon. In a recent recruiting video, one young woman warns: “You either fit here or you don’t. You love it or you don’t. There is no middle ground.”

 

ATTACHMENT ONE (B) – From the New York Times

THE AMAZON THAT CUSTOMERS DON’T SEE

 

 

LAST SEPTEMBER, Ann Castillo saw an email from Amazon that made no sense. Her husband had worked for the company for five years, most recently at the supersize warehouse on Staten Island that served as the retailer’s critical pipeline to New York City. Now it wanted him back on the night shift.

“We notified your manager and H.R. about your return to work on Oct. 1, 2020,” the message said.

Ms. Castillo was incredulous. While working mandatory overtime in the spring, her 42-year-old husband, Alberto, had been among the first wave of employees at the site to test positive for the coronavirus. Ravaged by fevers and infections, he suffered extensive brain damage. On tests of responsiveness, Ms. Castillo said, “his score was almost nothing.”

For months, Ms. Castillo, a polite, get-it-done physical therapist, had been alerting the company that her husband, who had been proud to work for the retail giant, was severely ill. The responses were disjointed and confusing. Emails and calls to Amazon’s automated systems often dead-ended. The company’s benefits were generous, but she had been left panicking as disability payments mysteriously halted. She managed to speak to several human resources workers, one of whom reinstated the payments, but after that, the dialogue mostly reverted to phone trees, auto-replies and voice mail messages on her husband’s phone asking if he was coming back.

The return-to-work summons deepened her suspicion that Amazon didn’t fully register his situation. “Haven’t they kept track of what happened to him?” she said. She wanted to ask the company: “Are your workers disposable? Can you just replace them?”

Mr. Castillo’s workplace, the only Amazon fulfillment center in America’s largest city, was achieving the impossible during the pandemic. With New York’s classic industries suffering mass collapse, the warehouse, called JFK8, absorbed hotel workers, actors, bartenders and dancers, paying nearly $18 an hour. Driven by a new sense of mission to serve customers afraid to shop in person, JFK8 helped Amazon smash shipping records, reach stratospheric sales and book the equivalent of the previous three years’ profits rolled into one.

That success, speed and agility were possible because Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, had pioneered new ways of mass-managing people through technology, relying on a maze of systems that minimized human contact to grow unconstrained.

But the company was faltering in ways outsiders could not see, according to a New York Times examination of JFK8 over the last year.

In contrast to its precise, sophisticated processing of packages, Amazon’s model for managing people — heavily reliant on metrics, apps and chatbots — was uneven and strained even before the coronavirus arrived, with employees often having to act as their own caseworkers, interviews and records show. Amid the pandemic, Amazon’s system burned through workers, resulted in inadvertent firings and stalled benefits, and impeded communication, casting a shadow over a business success story for the ages.

Amazon took steps unprecedented at the company to offer leniency, but then at times contradicted or ended them. Workers like Mr. Castillo at JFK8 were told to take as much unpaid time off as they needed, then hit with mandatory overtime. When Amazon offered employees flexible personal leaves, the system handling them jammed, issuing a blizzard of job-abandonment notices to workers and sending staff scrambling to save them, according to human resources and warehouse employees.

After absences initially soared and disrupted shipping, Amazon left employees mostly in the dark about the toll of the virus. The company did not tell workers at JFK8 or other warehouses the number of cases, causing them to worry whether notifications about “individuals” testing positive meant two or 22. While Amazon said publicly that it was disclosing confirmed cases to health officials, New York City records show no reported cases until November. The company and city officials dispute what happened.

Amazon continued to track every minute of most warehouse workers’ shifts, from how fast they packed merchandise to how long they paused — the kind of monitoring that spurred a failed unionization drive led by frustrated Black employees at an Alabama warehouse this spring. If productivity flagged, Amazon’s computers assumed the worker was to blame. Early in the pandemic, the online retailer paused its firing of employees for low output, but that change was not announced clearly at JFK8, so some workers still feared that moving too slowly would cost them their livelihoods.

“It is very important that area managers understand that associates are more than just numbers,” an employee wrote on JFK8’s internal feedback board last fall, adding: “We are human beings. We are not tools used to make their daily/weekly goals and rates.”

The company touted breathtaking job-creation numbers: From July to October 2020 alone, it scooped up 350,000 new workers, more than the population of St. Louis. Many recruits — hired through a computer screening, with little conversation or vetting — lasted just days or weeks.

Even before the pandemic, previously unreported data shows, Amazon lost about 3 percent of its hourly associates each week, meaning the turnover among its work force was roughly 150 percent a year. That rate, almost double that of the retail and logistics industries, has made some executives worry about running out of workers across America.

In documenting the untold story of how the pandemic exposed the power and peril of Amazon’s employment system, reporters interviewed nearly 200 current and former employees, from new hires at the JFK8 bus stop to back-office workers overseas to managers on Staten Island and in Seattle. The Times also reviewed company documents, legal filings and government records, as well as posts from warehouse feedback boards that served as a real-time ticker of worker concerns.

This April, Mr. Bezos said he was proud of the company’s work culture, the “achievable” productivity goals, the pay and benefits. In interviews, the head of human resources for warehouses and the general manager of JFK8 said that the company prioritized employee welfare, noted that it had expanded its H.R. staff and cited internal surveys showing high worker satisfaction. Some managers from JFK8 and beyond described building deep relationships with their teams.

Amazon acknowledged some issues with inadvertent firings, loss of benefits, job abandonment notices and leaves, but declined to disclose how many people were affected. Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman, suggested that those problems and some others chronicled in this article were outliers.

Ofori Agboka, the H.R. leader, noted that social distancing and masking had made it harder to engage employees in personal ways during the pandemic. Still, he said, “98 percent of everything’s going great — people are having the right experiences,” getting the help they need when they want it.

But several former executives who helped design Amazon’s systems, and still call themselves admirers of the company, said the high turnover, pressure over productivity and consequences of scaling up have become too critical to ignore. The company has not ambitiously addressed those issues, said Paul Stroup, who until recently led corporate teams devoted to understanding warehouse workers.

“Amazon can solve pretty much any problem it puts its mind behind,” he said in an interview. The human resources division, though, had nowhere near the focus, rigor and investment of Amazon’s logistical operations, where he had previously worked. “It felt like I was in a different company,” he said.

David Niekerk, a former Amazon vice president who built the warehouse human resources operations, said that some problems stemmed from ideas the company had developed when it was much smaller. Mr. Bezos did not want an entrenched work force, calling it “a march to mediocrity,” Mr. Niekerk recalled, and saw low-skilled jobs as relatively short-term. As Amazon rapidly grew, Mr. Niekerk said, its policies were harder to implement with fairness and care. “It is just a numbers game in many ways,” he said. “The culture gets lost.”

Even Mr. Bezos, in his final lap as chief executive of the company he created, is now making startling concessions about the system he invented. In a recent letter to shareholders, he said the union effort showed that “we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success.”

“We have always wanted to be Earth’s most customer-centric company,” he wrote. Now, he added, “we are going to be Earth’s best employer and Earth’s safest place to work.”

Amazon is also on pace to become the nation’s largest private employer within a year or two, as it continues expanding. About a million people in the United States, most of them hourly workers, now rely on the company’s wages and benefits. Many describe the job as rewarding. Adama Ndoye had supported her family on her JFK8 pay while attending college remotely. “Lights on, food, clothes, everything,” she said. Dawn George, a chef, said she was grateful to JFK8 for taking her in after hotel kitchen jobs disappeared last spring. “I’m willing to work my socks off just for an hourly income,” she said.

Some admire Amazon’s ambition. “It was like being a pitcher on a team that had a game every night,” said Dan Cavagnaro, who started at JFK8 when it opened in 2018 and worked with Mr. Castillo.

But Mr. Cavagnaro was mistakenly fired in July while trying to return from leave, and could not reach anyone to help.

“Please note the following,” he wrote in his final, unanswered email plea. “I WISH TO REMAIN EMPLOYED WITH AMAZON.”

In late March 2020, Traci Weishalla walked the length of JFK8, forgoing the fluorescent vest that marked her as a manager. She wanted an unfiltered look at what she would soon be helping to oversee: a warehouse the size of 15 football fields, serving America’s largest metropolis just as it was becoming the national epicenter of the pandemic.

The noise, from conveyor belts whipping around packages, was like the roar of an oncoming subway train. Built to conquer the most lucrative market in the country, the facility ran almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Ms. Weishalla had helped open the warehouse a year and a half earlier, and now — as homebound customers across the nation clamored for thermometers, disinfectant and puzzles — she saw opportunity and purpose in her return as assistant general manager. For an organization that dealt in logistical miracles, the coronavirus was just another obstacle to overcome, she said.

“That’s what we do,” Ms. Weishalla, 38, explained later. “We work to figure out the impossible problems.”

Overtime Notifications

JFK8 announced workers would have mandatory extra time, or M.E.T. in March, a message in direct conflict with its policy of unlimited unpaid time off during this period.

·                   March 18, 2020

          Hello Amazonians This is a reminder that All Departments will be on MET For the week of March 22nd.   More than ever our customers are relying on us. Please utilize A to Z to check your schedule. Also don’t           forget to report ALL absences, so that we can make sure your time is documented correctly and there are no issues.

But Amazon’s mighty system was lurching. Semi trucks sat at warehouses around the country, without enough workers to unload them. Customers discovered that items the company had deemed nonessential might take a month to arrive — an eternity for a business that had routinely delivered within two days.

One critical reason: Warehouse laborers were not showing up.

Delays Plagued Deliveries to Customers in New York City

With the warehouses short-staffed and the company prioritizing essential items, Amazon’s typically fast deliveries took longer to reach customers. In April 2020, 28% of Amazon packages took more than a week to arrive.

To lure them back, Amazon offered a temporary $2-an-hour raise, double pay for overtime and, for the first time, unlimited unpaid time off. Executives thought that workers should be able to stay home without fear of being fired, and that with greater flexibility, some might still come in for part of a shift, according to two people familiar with the decision. (Like some other senior leaders in this article, they spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment.)

Across the country, almost a third of Amazon’s 500,000 workers were staying home. Some new hires abandoned jobs before they even began, according to former recruiters. JFK8 “was like a ghost town,” recalled Arthur Turner, a worker who remained.

Even Alberto Castillo considered staying home. The numbers on the news were unfathomable: at least 20,000 New Yorkers already infected, city hospitals jammed, as many as 1.7 million deaths projected nationwide.

But this was no time to go without his income: The Castillos, immigrants from the Philippines, yearned to buy a house. He worked nights, troubleshooting and training with gentle mastery, frequent jokes and “Star Wars” references, colleagues said, and he had just applied for a promotion.

JFK8 was also giving contradictory instructions: Despite Amazon’s promise of unpaid time off, workers were alerted that every department would be on mandatory overtime.

When Mr. Castillo arrived on March 24, he heard the warehouse had its first positive case. He messaged his boss, who replied, “Yes, forgot to bring that up,” and added that everyone who worked with the employee had been notified. Mr. Castillo called his wife to discuss whether to head home. They decided he would finish out his shift.

On the dawn drive back to New Jersey, his throat began itching.

 

Organized Labor

That morning, two workers drove in the opposite direction, beelined to JFK8’s break room and told dozens of colleagues: The virus had breached the warehouse, Amazon could not be trusted to tell them the truth and the facility should be shut down.

Derrick Palmer and Chris Smalls, Amazon teammates and best friends, weren’t part of any formal effort. Their employer considered unionization a dire threat, and had even backed out of building a second headquarters in New York in part over potential labor-organizing plans. A retail workers’ union had once boldly declared that JFK8 would become the first unionized Amazon warehouse in the country, but the effort had died.

Both men had been at Amazon since 2015 and knew the company from the lowest rungs. Mr. Palmer, then 31, was observant and deliberate, so fit that he often headed to the gym after a 10-hour shift. After dropping out of community college, he worked in a string of warehouses, joined Amazon and was now a “picker” at JFK8, pulling products off robotic shelves. He often produced top numbers on the software that tracked productivity, and had been selected to train others and help open a warehouse in Illinois.

He also felt let down, believing that Amazon’s towering success didn’t accrue to workers like him. Employees felt managed largely by app, algorithm and strict but poorly explained rules, he said. When he met Ms. Weishalla at a 2019 session for workers to share feedback, he said, he requested more human interaction from management and told her he aspired to a job like hers. But he saw no changes. “If we go beyond the requirements, there’s no reward,” he said in an interview.

When Mr. Palmer last sought a promotion, in early 2020, he was among 382 people who applied for the position. Though he didn’t know it, the odds were steep by design, an outgrowth of Mr. Bezos’ management philosophies.

Amazon intentionally limited upward mobility for hourly workers, said Mr. Niekerk, the former H.R. vice president who retired in 2016 after nearly 17 years at the company. Dave Clark, then head of operations, had shot down his proposal around 2014 to create more leadership roles for hourly employees, similar to noncommissioned officers in the military, he recalled.

Instead, Mr. Clark, who is now chief executive of Amazon’s consumer business, wanted to double down on hiring “wicked smart” frontline managers straight out of college, Mr. Niekerk said. By contrast, more than 75 percent of managers in Walmart’s U.S. stores started as hourly employees. Following a pattern across Amazon, JFK8 promoted 220 people last year among its more than 5,000 employees, a rate that is less than half of Walmart’s.

Amazon’s founder didn’t want hourly workers to stick around for long, viewing “a large, disgruntled” work force as a threat, Mr. Niekerk recalled. Company data showed that most employees became less eager over time, he said, and Mr. Bezos believed that people were inherently lazy. “What he would say is that our nature as humans is to expend as little energy as possible to get what we want or need.” That conviction was embedded throughout the business, from the ease of instant ordering to the pervasive use of data to get the most out of employees.

So guaranteed wage increases stopped after three years, and Amazon provided incentives for low-skilled employees to leave. Every year, Mr. Palmer saw signs go up offering associates thousands of dollars to resign, and as he entered JFK8 each morning, he passed a classroom for free courses to train them in other fields.

Mr. Agboka, the H.R. leader, said while the company offered training and careers at Amazon to those interested, it was proud to also provide people short-term employment for the “seasons and periods of time” they need.

As the virus arrived at JFK8, Mr. Palmer worried about how Amazon would protect and communicate with workers. Notification about the warehouse’s first positive case had been uneven. A colleague working near Mr. Smalls had appeared sick, her eyes bloodshot as she struggled through her shift.

The two men saw only one solution: for JFK8 to pause, clean and reassess, as an Amazon facility in Queens had briefly done. Unpaid leave wasn’t enough, they said — a company run by the richest man on earth shouldn’t force workers to choose between safety and a paycheck.

Mr. Palmer invited dozens of workers to share concerns on an Instagram chat.

“This is why my ass been staying home,” one wrote.

“Health before wealth honestly, kiss your loved ones daily,” another replied.

“Are you guys actually just picking essential items?” one asked, referring to Amazon’s early-pandemic efforts to ship only necessary merchandise.

“Man, I’m stowing dildos,” another responded.

Nearly all the workers in the group were Black, like Mr. Palmer and Mr. Smalls, or Latino. So were more than 60 percent of associates at JFK8, according to internal Amazon records from 2019. Management, the documents show, was more than 70 percent white or Asian. Black associates at JFK8 were almost 50 percent more likely to be fired — whether for productivity, misconduct, or not showing up for work — than their white peers, the records show. (Amazon said it could not confirm the data without knowing more specifics about its source.)

Workers of Color Fuel Amazon’s Operations

A vast majority of the company’s warehouse workers in the U.S. are included in the first group in the 2018 data below. These employees are largely people of color, while higher levels of the company tend to be majority white.

Between the constant monitoring, the assumption that many workers are slackers, and the lack of advancement opportunity, “a lot of minority workers just felt like we were being used,” Mr. Palmer said later.

“We’re the heart and soul of that building,” he wrote in the chat. “Nothing gets done without us.”

The two men continued their break-room warnings for several more days, and confronted JFK8 managers. “If, God forbid, somebody in this building passes away, or somebody’s loved one passes away, that’s going to be on your hands, not mine,” Mr. Smalls, the firecracker of the pair, told the warehouse’s top leader, according to an audio recording of one conversation.

On March 30, they demonstrated in the parking lot with a small group of other employees. Mr. Palmer carried a sign that read, “Treat your workers like your customers.”

In Seattle, executives still grappling with cratering attendance sought to minimize the protest but instead drew more attention to it. Amazon fired Mr. Smalls, saying his demonstration had violated a quarantine order based on his contact with the sick co-worker. (Mr. Palmer received a warning for violating social-distancing rules.) Meeting notes taken the next day by the company’s top lawyer and leaked to Vice News called Mr. Smalls “not smart or articulate.”

Though the lawyer soon said he didn’t know Mr. Smalls’s race, a group of Black corporate employees wrote a letter calling the smear part of “a systemic pattern of racial bias that permeates Amazon.” The New York attorney general’s office and Senator Elizabeth Warren asked if the firing was retaliation, which Amazon denied.

Mr. Palmer chose to stay at JFK8, determined to change it from the inside. Mr. Bezos, who had been holing up at his ranch in West Texas, made a rare visit to an Amazon warehouse near Dallas on April 8, flashing a thumbs-up to employees.

Summoning Workers Back

With so many employees staying home — because of family needs, fear of contracting the coronavirus and reluctance to use public transit — the unthinkable was happening to Amazon: Its customers were turning to competitors.

By mid-April, Walmart, Target and other retailers were clearly gaining ground. To reverse the trend and serve its customers, Amazon would have to find a way to bring back workers. Any decision the company made would affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of employees.

The task of sweating out the scenarios fell to Paul Stroup, who ran data science teams in Seattle. Mr. Stroup had been a veteran of what he described as “the brain” of Amazon operations — a division of thousands of employees finding tiny efficiencies to optimize for cheaper, faster and more predictable deliveries — when, in 2019, he made an unusual switch to Human Resources. Some shocked colleagues teased that joining H.R. would be like going on sabbatical.

 

But he had once been a low-wage worker himself, unloading trucks part time at a Home Depot store for $9 an hour. Home Depot had also paid half his college tuition. Soon after graduating, he moved to the corporate office.

“If I wanted to help as many people as I could, being at H.R. at Amazon, which is one of the largest employers in the world, has a huge impact,” Mr. Stroup said. He hoped to help improve life not just at Amazon, he said, but for hourly employees at companies that look to its example.

As he evaluated the return-to-work options, he felt confident that Amazon’s warehouses were growing safer, thanks to billions of dollars spent on virus safeguards.

On Staten Island, Ms. Weishalla piloted a process for spraying disinfectant between shifts that was later rolled out across the United States and Europe. Thermal temperature scanners were installed at JFK8 and other warehouses. Colored tape marking one-way paths crisscrossed the floors. Artificial intelligence engineers built a program that projected virtual six-foot circles around employees to help them keep their distance.

“We can’t wait three months,” Ms. Weishalla said. “This is priority No. 1.”

Mr. Stroup also helped data scientists and epidemiologists assemble tools to spot potential outbreaks, creating a centralized source to track cases. While a few Amazon buildings had concerning spikes, he said, the analysis showed that most, including JFK8, had infection rates at or below the known levels — testing was initially limited — in communities where their workers lived. There were no large reported outbreaks in the warehouses like those at meatpacking plants, but Covid deaths around the country were swiftly climbing.

Amazon Lost Market Share Early in the Pandemic

Competitors cut into Amazon’s substantial market share in the U.S., in part because the company was showing customers long delivery times.

Mr. Stroup worried how Amazon would summon workers back. The company needed to know who didn’t intend to return so that it could replace them. But forcing employees too abruptly could result in firing tens of thousands of people. Mr. Stroup knew the work offered a lifeline: “The cleanliness, the procedure, the pay, the benefits — all of that is very competitive,” he said.

He prepared surveys and data for Mr. Clark, the operations chief, who would make the final decision. “I’d heard Dave was saying: ‘Let’s just move faster. This isn’t helping people not knowing if they are coming back to work or not. We’ve created a safe place to work — we’ve proven that people aren’t getting Covid at work — so let’s just find out if they want to come back or not,’” he said.

In a virtual meeting, Mr. Stroup told Mr. Clark that if employees were brought back gradually, over a month or two, only 5 to 10 percent were projected to stay home and lose their jobs. Under the faster plan, many more were likely to be fired for not showing up. “The cold-turkey example was pretty bad,” Mr. Stroup said, “like it was 20 to 30 percent of people would be let go in the month.”

Within days, he heard Mr. Clark had chosen that route. “My team took it hard,” Mr. Stroup said. Even so, he understood Mr. Clark’s predicament. “There’s a lot of pressure when your website normally says one or two days, and now it says 28 days to get something,” he said.

Ms. Nantel, the spokeswoman, said the decision was about supporting customers and communities in a time of need while providing safe jobs for people who wanted them. Amazon declined to make available several of its most senior executives for interviews, including Mr. Clark; Beth Galetti, the head of human resources; and Mr. Bezos.

In late April, Amazon told workers that unlimited unpaid time off would not be extended into May. The company eased requirements for personal leaves; to remain home without penalty, workers had a week left to apply. That decision created chaos.

Human Resources by App

Immediately, leave applications flooded into an Amazon back office in San José, Costa Rica. The system couldn’t keep up.

Dangelo Padilla, a Costa Rican case manager who started at Amazon in 2016, woke up every morning to confront what he described as insurmountable tasks before him and his colleagues. They had already been overwhelmed by a backlog of almost 18,000 cases in early March, emails show, and over the last week in April got 13,500 more requests.

Panicked workers trying to take leaves found phone lines busy and got auto-replies warning of delayed responses. Some who applied for leaves were being penalized for missing work, triggering warning notices and then terminations. When their messages reached Mr. Padilla and his colleagues, workers were distraught.

“This is impacting the employees and impacting us,” Mr. Padilla said he entreated their managers. “You have to fix this.”

The V.O.A. Board

Workers turn to the internal Voice of Associates (V.O.A.) board with issues large and small, including overtime, which can be mandatory (known as M.E.T.) or voluntary (V.E.T.). Employee names have been redacted for privacy reasons.

·                                 workerOct.16, 2020

                        How can MET be called with no notification, no text, no email nothing. You just put it on our schedule. Once I finish my shift today ill be at 55hrs. I would only be able to work 5hrs tomorrow im not going to travel 3hrs to work 5hrs that makes no sense at all

·                                 managerOct.19, 2020

                        Hey [name redacted], thank you for reaching out! Based on risk to customer orders this past weekend and limited VET acceptance for Saturday, the decision was made to call MET just for the DC7 cohort to ensure we could meet these customer commitments. The JFK8 team is generally very proactive in calling MET as to give our teams plenty of time to plan ahead, however due to increased customer orders on Prime Week and that impact on the weekend, it was necessary to call at that time. MET notification was sent out prior to lunch on Friday, which is within the allotted time to announce for those on site. A to Z was then adjusted a few hours after that. For instances such as this, our HR team is able to work with those that have extenuating circumstances. Thank you!

The team that vetted leaves had long struggled with rickety technology, according to Mr. Padilla and eight other current and former employees in Costa Rica. Right before the pandemic, they started using a new case-management system called Dali to address the problems and provide flexibility, but it was buggy. Staff members were constantly encountering problems. “We were lost,” Mr. Padilla said. “Not even our managers knew how to handle it.”

Faxes and emails that were supposed to be automatically sorted ended up in a massive inbox that had to be manually triaged. Approved leaves that were supposed to be directly reflected in worker attendance programs instead had to be input by hand at another back office, in Pune, India.

When that wasn’t done on time, warehouse employees with approved leaves got notices warning that they would be fired for abandoning their jobs. “I saw those situations every day — people getting U.P.T. deducted for no reason, people being terminated for no reasons,” Mr. Padilla said.

In interviews, more than 25 current and former Amazon employees who dealt with the disability and leave system — executives, human resources personnel from JFK8 and other warehouses, and back office staff in the United States and abroad — bemoaned its inadequacy, calling it a source of frustration and panic. For years, they said, it had been prone to the kinds of errors Mr. Padilla described. Amazon catches many of the mistakes; some employees fight their own cases and prevail. Others give up and quit.

Ms. Nantel, the spokeswoman, said that the company quickly approved personal leaves during this period, hiring 500 people to help process the increased volume. She said Amazon received more than a million leave requests in the first year of the pandemic, twice its forecast, and worked hard to contact employees before they were fired to see if they wanted to keep their jobs.

Workers turned to H.R. teams in the warehouses for help, though they weren’t primarily responsible for leaves. Even under normal circumstances, they were stretched thin. In interviews, veterans from Staten Island and across the country described long hours trying to fix errors, enforce Amazon’s rules fairly and respond to the problems that plague any low-income work force — transportation breakdowns, lack of child care. At JFK8, some employees said they had spent an entire 30-minute break waiting in line for H.R. without getting to speak to anyone.

In the warehouses, self-service kiosks performed many traditional human resources functions. An app called A to Z handled everything from payroll to schedule changes.

Many workers said they found the app easy to use. It has a 4.7-star rating in Apple’s App Store, but even some of those who praise it see broader problems. “App is awesome, very helpful. BUT!!!!!!!!!” begins one five-star review users have designated as most helpful. “Associates should be able to speak to a person, not a virtual chat bot to get individual help. … Especially when many say they were fired because the chat reps forget sometimes or it doesn’t get through.”

The technology is designed to give workers many ways to communicate and was not meant to replace live interactions, Ms. Nantel said. She added that the H.R. staff for warehouse workers had grown by 60 percent since 2019 — a rise that parallels that of the hourly work force. At JFK8, the human resources team for the more than 5,000 employees has increased from 25 to 34 staff members since the start of the pandemic.

Mr. Padilla resigned from Amazon last summer, but returned this May, grateful to join a team that has nothing to do with managing leaves. “Being there,” he said, “basically destroyed my mental health and my stability.”

 

Record Profits, Halted Raises

On Staten Island, workers began getting the dreaded warnings.

Mr. Cavagnaro, who had worked with Alberto Castillo, had taken a leave from Amazon. He suggested a June return date on a doctor’s note, but couldn’t reach the company to ask questions or discuss coming back. Amazon’s attendance systems recorded him as a no-show, and he began getting job-abandonment notices. Unable to get a reply, he threw his hands up and allowed himself to be fired.

After The Times asked Amazon about his situation, the company offered him his job back. (His case “should have been handled better,” Ms. Nantel said.)

By the time Mr. Cavagnaro was struggling in late spring to return to JFK8, Mr. Castillo had severely declined. Doctors told his wife that he would never again speak, eat or work. Unable to visit him because of virus restrictions, Ms. Castillo created a mural in their small apartment, showing the family of four celebrating church festivities, doing martial arts and wearing matching Halloween costumes. On Father’s Day, the couple’s two children stood outside the medical center where he was being treated, with posters declaring their devotion.

Health insurance that Amazon provided covered most of the medical bills, but Ms. Castillo discovered that her husband’s short-term disability payments had stopped. “I kept sending in medical forms but couldn’t tell if anyone on the other end was actually receiving them,” she said. The house they had hoped to buy was a vanished dream; now she was counting every penny and accepting donations from friends.

JFK8’s human resources manager apologized and set the 10 weeks of missed payments right. Amazon said the documents Ms. Castillo had submitted never made it to his case manager, a systems issue that had affected others as well.

As workers returned, Amazon informed employees nationwide that it was ending the $2-an-hour raise and double overtime pay. The extra wages had not been “hazard” pay, officials said, but an incentive to show up.

The V.O.A. Board

workerMarch 2, 2021

It would be nice if there were more advancement opportunities for jobs inside amazon that are outside the FC. Most jobs at higher level require experience that people don't have and will not get an opportunity to get. Thanks

human resourcesMarch 3, 2021

Hi [name redacted], thank you for your comment. We do have numerous job opportunities posted, which can be found on Jobfinder.com. [name redacted], your manager will be following up with you to discuss in more detail, help you find what you are looking for and answer any questions you may have. Update 3/4/21: Thank you for speaking with [name redacted]. Please let us know if you have any additional questions or concerns. Thank you!

The decision to force workers back ushered the company into the most profitable era in its history. By late May, JFK8 was a top-performing warehouse, bringing in 1.68 million items in a single week, Christine Hernandez, who worked in human resources, boasted on Twitter. “Yasss!!!” she cheered.

In July, Amazon announced $5.2 billion in earnings for the quarter — a record, until the next quarter brought $6.3 billion.

Amazon had been “running pretty much full out” since the beginning of May when more people were back at work, Brian Olsavsky, the company’s finance chief, explained on a call with reporters. That let the online retailer meet the enormous demand more efficiently, working at full capacity around the clock. It was like Black Friday every single day.

The Power of the Metrics

For Traci Weishalla and her peers, a key to boosting thousands of employees to that level of performance was setting the pace. Speed was essential, but so was keeping the whole warehouse in rhythm. If new items were unpacked more quickly than they could be prepared for shipping, all of JFK8 could jam. The fulfillment center was one organism in an even bigger ecosystem of warehouses, and to coordinate with them and the fleet of delivery drivers, Ms. Weishalla had to maintain a quick, consistent pulse.

Two measurements dominated most hourly employees’ shifts. Rate gauged how fast they worked, a constantly fluctuating number displayed at their station. Time off task, or T.O.T., tracked every moment they strayed from their assignment — whether trekking to the bathroom, troubleshooting broken machinery or talking to a co-worker. The company pioneered new ways to calculate both metrics in the mid-2000s, when a smaller, scrappier Amazon set out to revolutionize warehouses.

Mr. Niekerk, the former H.R. chief for operations, said the emphasis on productivity tracking, alluring in a company as analytical as Amazon, was debated from the start. He had been skeptical, arguing that “a productivity metric is always a frightening thing,” conveying “One slip-up and I will fall behind.’”

“I lost that battle,” he said. Eventually, he said, promises of firmer, faster delivery created “a multiplying effect on the demand for higher productivity.”

In newer, robotics-driven warehouses like JFK8, those metrics were at the center of Amazon’s operation. A single frontline manager could keep track of 50, 75, even 100 workers by checking a laptop. Auto-generated reports signaled when someone was struggling. A worker whose rate was too slow, or whose time off task climbed too high, risked being disciplined or fired. If a worker was off task, the system assumed the worker was to blame. Managers were told to ask workers what happened, and manually code in what they deemed legitimate excuses, like broken machinery, to override the default.

Internal documents show that managers were instructed to address only the “top offender” for time off task in each department per shift. Less than 1 percent of terminations in 2019 were over rate or time off task, according to Ms. Nantel.

But workers didn’t know that. The goal, JFK8’s internal guidelines state, “is to create an environment not where we are writing everyone up, but that associates know that we are auditing for T.O.T.” Workers could not readily see their T.O.T. totals, increasing anxiety. Word spread that Amazonians couldn’t take bathroom breaks — a misperception rooted in real apprehension. Some employees chronicled their workday down to the minute in a notebook, just in case.

The V.O.A. Board

·         workerOct. 21, 2020

It is very Important that area managers understand that associates are more than just numbers or just our logins but that we are human beings. We are not tools used to reach their daily / weekly goals and rates but that we need their support in becoming better employees.

·         managerOct. 22, 2020

Hi [name redacted], let's meet in person to discuss your concerns in further detail.

Mr. Agboka said time off task was intended to identify impediments a worker may face. “We don’t want people working with the mind-set of loss of employment versus being productive and being successful,” he said.

Some employees, like Arthur Turner, found the systems fair: “If you come here and do the right thing, you follow all the protocols that they want you to, you can’t get in any trouble.”

Dayana Santos, 32, who started at JFK8 in June 2019, appreciated the metrics. “How can I do my job efficiently if the next person isn’t doing theirs?” asked Ms. Santos, who sometimes raced with colleagues for fun. “Why does everything have to be a competition with you, Santos?” her boss would tease.

After months of praise from her managers, Ms. Santos had one very bad day. She had been working in robotics, but because her bus was late, she was sent to picking. She was offered a different assignment after lunch, but it never came through, and her station in picking was occupied. She traversed the warehouse looking for another one, racking up more time off task. That afternoon, she was stunned to discover that she was being fired.

Stories like that intimidate workers even before their first day, a human resources team at Amazon headquarters found. “Everyone in your community, every third person, has worked at Amazon,” Mr. Stroup said. “You have pieces of information that you’ve been told at the dinner table or with friends.”

Experiments by one of Mr. Stroup’s teams found that prodding workers did not make them productive enough to be worth the anxiety. The team joked that giving a worker $5 “probably would have a better impact than a manager going and telling you, ‘You did a bad job last week.’” Work on the issue stalled when the pandemic created more pressing priorities.

But over the summer, resistance to the policies was rising. With the extra Covid pay gone and Black Lives Matter protests spreading across the nation, a small group of Black workers at a new warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., on the outskirts of Birmingham, were bristling at how Amazon micromanaged their time. Frustrated, one of them in an online search hit upon the retail workers’ union that once had ambitions to organize JFK8.

In New York, Ms. Santos was making her own small stand. Amazon had contested her unemployment benefits, arguing that she had been fired for cause. She fought back, and an administrative court judge sided with her, noting that she had never received a warning and that Amazon hadn’t proved she was off task.

In midsummer, a message from Ms. Weishalla landed in JFK8 workers’ email inboxes and was posted inside bathroom stalls, saying that “productivity feedback” was suspended because of the pandemic. That meant no one would be fired for being too slow. Confusingly, the message, which also noted extra minutes for hand-washing, said the changes had been in effect since March.

Until the notices, many workers had no idea Amazon had relaxed one of its most controversial employment policies. Rates were still displayed at workstations, and initial instructions to managers had been marked “verbal guidance only.” Ms. Nantel said that managers were supposed to tell each worker individually, calling it a high-touch approach. The building-wide notices from Ms. Weishalla had been prompted by a lawsuit — later dismissed — challenging pandemic working conditions at JFK8. The lead plaintiff was Derrick Palmer.

Though workers couldn’t be punished for low rates, managers still encouraged speed. One late summer day, Thalia Morales, then 28, was limiting bathroom trips to improve her productivity. She finally couldn’t wait any longer — and found the nearest ladies room closed. Ms. Morales exploded in anger at a cleaner, who said she couldn’t enter. She was fired for the verbal altercation, she recalled in an interview, and told she could never reapply.

Soon, to her shock, the app pinged her for missing work. She returned to the warehouse with trepidation, completed her shift and still works there today. It turned out her termination hadn’t been processed properly — Amazon had erred in her favor.

By the end of September, word traveled around JFK8 and other warehouses: The reprieve on rate was over. The holiday season was coming, and it was expected to be like none other.

Burning Through the Work Force

On Oct. 13, the bus stop outside JFK8 was flooded with workers hired in a surge without parallel in American corporate history. It was Prime Day, the invented Amazon shopping holiday that kicked off the Christmas season. To meet the moment, the warehouse was absorbing entire friend and family units without job interviews, and in most cases, little to no conversation between employer and applicants.

As dusk settled and trucks rolled by, Tiara Mangroo, a high school student just off her shift, embraced her boyfriend. He worked for Amazon on Staten Island too, as did her father, uncle, cousins and best friend. Keanu Bushell, a college student, worked days, and his father nights, sharing one car that made four daily trips between Brooklyn and JFK8. A mother and daughter organized containers of meals for their middle-of-the-night breaks; others packed Red Bull or Starbucks Frappuccinos in the clear theft-prevention bags that workers carried. Most said they were grateful just to be employed.

Kevin Michelus, 60, and retired after a lifetime of odd jobs, had been drawn in by a postcard advertising work. “No résumé, no job experience required,” he said. “I’ve never heard of a job like that.” He and the other newcomers had been hired after only a quick online screening. Internally, some describe the company’s automated employment process as “lights-out hiring,” with algorithms making decisions, and limited sense on Amazon’s part of whom it is bringing in.

Mr. Niekerk said Mr. Bezos drove the push to remove humans from the hiring process, saying Amazon’s need for workers would be so great, the applications had to be “a check-the-box screen.” Mr. Bezos also saw automated assessments as a consistent, unbiased way to find motivated workers, Mr. Niekerk said.

Amazon boasted about the jobs it created, calling itself a force for growth and sustenance. What the numbers masked was that many workers cycled out of Amazon within months or even days.

Amazon’s Turnover Outpaces Its Peers’

Amazon is so large, and its churn so high, it affects the industry turnover rate where it operates, according to a Times analysis. In the two years after Amazon opened a new facility, the county turnover rate of warehousing and storage employees rose an average of 30 percentage points compared with two years prior.

As the weeks wore on, hints of trouble were cropping up, according to interviews and posts on JFK8’s internal feedback board viewed by The Times. Several said workers should get more warning about mandatory overtime, that schedules changed “with no call, no text, no email, nothing.” H.R. representatives were “hard to find,” “not trained,” and “not able to handle genuine complaints.” Others wondered why they had to go find an H.R. representative to fix errors in unpaid time off deducted by the A to Z app. “Look at all the technology we have now,” one employee wrote. “I’m sure this can be corrected.”

Some of the workers faltered immediately or just seemed wrong for the job. Ms. Mangroo wasn’t even supposed to be there; Amazon’s hiring policies don’t allow for high schoolers. She was fired for time off task problems, after what Amazon called repeated coaching attempts. Soon her best friend and uncle were gone too. Mr. Michelus, the retiree recruited by postcard, had a low productivity rate. Stressed, he quit 11 days after he began.

 

Keanu Bushell, half of the father-son commuting tag team, didn’t trust Amazon’s systems to tally his time correctly and resigned. With limited hours on public transit, some newcomers were struggling with 2 or 3 a.m. wake-ups in far corners of the city, three-hour odysseys to the warehouse and nearly 12-hour shifts. Others were washouts — stealing merchandise, playing games on their phones for long stretches in the bathroom, abusing the leave policy.

In 2019, Amazon hired more than 770,000 hourly workers, even though the company, including corporate staff, grew by just 150,000 that year, John Phillips, the former head of mass hiring, wrote on LinkedIn. That meant the equivalent of Amazon’s entire work force — roughly 650,000 people at the start of the year — left and were replaced that year. The company declined to provide numbers for 2020.

For some, the short-term relationship worked. Stephen Ojo, a dancer in Brooklyn, joined JFK8 in the spring. “It was a good way for me to make extra money, it wasn’t clashing with my schedule, it fit with my life at the time,” he said. But he also knew that Amazon wasn’t his future. He was a star dancer in Beyoncé’s film “Black Is King,” which would stream to viewers in the summer. By then, he was done at Amazon.

Others needed the work. Days after Mr. Michelus quit, he was back at the bus stop. “I’ve got to learn to deal with the pressure,” he said. Amazon took him back, and soon he was picking items again.

The V.O.A. Board

·         workerFeb. 28, 2021

I don't have any complaints today is just my final day working here. I want to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. It is because of Amazon that i was able to make friends, learn, grow, and pay off my college bill. I thank the incredible stow team and their leaders and everyone that made this place what it is. Thank you amazon for everything.

·         managerMarch 1, 2021

[name redacted] we wish you all the best and thank you for your service here at JFK8! Although it's a big team it really does feel like a family here and we will miss having you here on the team but all the best in your new endeavors! :)

With the high churn, multiple current and former Amazon executives fear there simply will not be enough workers. In the more remote towns where Amazon based its early U.S. operations, it burned through local labor pools and needed to bus people in.

“Six to seven people who apply equals one person showing up and actually doing work,” Mr. Stroup explained. If Amazon is churning through its entire work force once or twice a year, he said, “You need to have eight, nine, 10 million people apply each year.” That’s about 5 percent of the entire American work force.

Ms. Nantel responded to multiple questions about Amazon’s turnover by repeating, “Attrition is only one data point, which when used alone lacks important context.”

Many newcomers were in impractical situations, whether because of schedules or commutes. “Sometimes, it’s simply not a good fit,” said Ms. Weishalla, the JFK8 manager.

Mr. Stroup says he is forever “an Amazon fanboy.” But over time in human resources there, he became disappointed that he “didn’t hear long-term thinking” about the company’s quick cycling through workers. He likened it to using fossil fuels despite climate change.

“We keep using them,” he said, “even though we know we’re slowly cooking ourselves.”

He left Amazon too. After almost nine years at the company, he joined Shopify, another e-commerce business, where he hoped his insights might have more impact.

Billions, Bonuses, Bananas

Ann Castillo stood outside her New Jersey apartment complex in early December, about to take on the responsibility of a lifetime. She had decided to bring her husband, now on hospice care, home and tend to him herself. Even with Amazon’s long-term disability insurance, she might have to move into low-income housing.

“If he’s going to go, then at least he’s with us,” she said.

She saw no sign that anyone in charge at JFK8 knew what was going on. “They never called and asked to follow up on how he’s doing,” she said.

A moment later, a procession of emergency vehicles flooded the small parking lot, lights flashing in salute. The drivers, town officials who were strangers to Ms. Castillo, told her to call day or night. When the ambulance arrived, it took all of the visitors to maneuver Alberto Castillo into the apartment.

Ms. Castillo’s own employer, a nonprofit home health care provider, overwhelmed her with support, arranging twice as many hospice nurse visits as usual, donating the extra nursing time and giving money from an emergency fund. Nearly everyone else in their lives, and even some strangers, had pitched in too, Ms. Castillo said: teachers, fellow parents, soccer teammates and coaches, church members, and old friends from the Philippines sent groceries, meals, gift cards and checks.

Months later, after inquiries from The Times, an H.R. official and a JFK8 staff member reached out to Ms. Castillo. A spokeswoman expressed regret that Ms. Castillo did not feel properly supported. Mr. Agboka, the H.R. leader, said in a statement, “We have her, her husband, and their loved ones in our thoughts and prayers.”

Inside the warehouse, Ms. Weishalla, who had been promoted to general manager, tracked nearly every conceivable metric about JFK8’s demand, attendance and inventory. But she said she did not keep tabs on how many workers were infected. “It’s not a daily thing I track — it’s hard to quantify that,” she said in an interview. “No one is sending me a number.”

(Ms. Nantel said Ms. Weishalla had access to cases via an online portal and was well informed of JFK8’s case count.)

The holiday-season sprint known as Peak arrived just as a second wave of the virus slammed into the region. The true measure of infection among JFK8 workers was hard to know. Amazon was providing free on-site testing by October. But it did not share with the general work force the names of those infected, for privacy reasons, or offer guidance on where or what shifts they worked.

As a result, many employees learned about positive cases informally, setting the rumor mill running. When Derrick Palmer realized the company never sent a notification about a colleague who told him she was sick, he confronted managers, who could not explain why. (Ms. Nantel said it was an error, adding that the warehouse has since found only one other missing notification.) To him, that lapse, along with the lack of clarity about Covid numbers, underscored his belief since March that Amazon was not being transparent about the virus threat.

For months, Amazon had said publicly that it was reporting confirmed cases at JFK8 and other warehouses to local health authorities, as required of employers. But New York City health department records show no reports until November.

Ms. Nantel said that Amazon had regularly reported cases since March 2020, and attributed the lack of records to the city health department’s being overwhelmed early in the pandemic. A spokesman for the agency, Patrick Gallahue, acknowledged that its reporting system was not set up until July, but said there was no reason that cases reported later would not be documented.

According to city data and records disclosed by Amazon in a lawsuit, the warehouse had at least 700 confirmed cases between March 2020 and March 2021. Given the limited testing in the New York metropolitan area last spring, that may well be an undercount.

As Christmas approached, JFK8 was setting an Amazon record for volume. “Huge congrats to the team hitting over 1 Million units in 24 hours kicking off Peak 2020!” Ms. Weishalla cheered on LinkedIn. The workers “achieved the unachievable,” echoed another manager. Soon Ms. Weishalla was promoted again, supervising multiple warehouses in the Midwest.

JFK8 was just a small part of Amazon’s success. From October through December, Amazon brought in $125.6 billion in sales. In the pandemic year of 2020, it spent $44 billion leasing airplanes, constructing data centers, and opening new warehouses — and still produced more than $21 billion in profit. Globally, it spent $2.5 billion on the extra pandemic pay in spring and seasonal bonuses; for the holidays, warehouse employees got $300, $150 for part-timers.

Amazon Is Building Warehouses Faster Than Ever

In Facebook groups, warehouse workers across the country shared photos of the messages their managers sent to motivate and reward them. Some won air fryers or Fire TV Sticks. In Connecticut, a manager messaged employees at their workstations that if they handled 400 items an hour, or about one every 10 seconds, “you WIN CANDY.”  At another, a sign went up during the holidays: “Today’s Snack: A Banana *Available 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.*” In Ohio, workers got scratch-off cards to win prizes.

One employee scratched off two with the same message: “Please try again.”

 

Looking for Signs of Change

A few weeks into the new year, Derrick Palmer took a 16-hour road trip with Mr. Smalls to Bessemer to witness the most serious push workers had ever made to challenge their status at Amazon. The employees galvanizing Amazon’s first-ever unionization vote framed their treatment as an issue of racial justice. Above all, they objected to the time off task system and other productivity monitoring, and called their campaign a quest for respect in the workplace.

Amazon waged a ground war, warning — through posted signs, texts and mandatory meetings — that union negotiations could risk the good jobs and benefits workers already had. In the end, the election was not even close: The retail union lost by more than 2 to 1.

Back on Staten Island, Mr. Palmer and Mr. Smalls embarked on a new mission anyway. As legal fights continued over whether JFK8 was safe during the virus and how Amazon handled the March 2020 protests, they began collecting hundreds of workers’ signatures in a quest to unionize JFK8. Amazon pulled out its Bessemer playbook and fought back, posting discouraging signs in bathrooms and at the building’s entrance. Mr. Palmer, still packing boxes as the company countered his efforts, felt the pressure on him grow.

But at the same time, the Alabama rout was leading to an unexpected moment of recognition by the company. The complaints heard in Bessemer were echoed by workers at multiple warehouses across the country. A new, labor-friendly president was in the White House. The virus had magnified fundamental questions about Amazon’s relationship with its employees, and the reopening economy presented workers with other options — a potential problem for a business whose growth ambitions are larger than ever.

In the final months of Jeff Bezos’ tenure as chief executive, his high-turnover model looked riskier, and the concerns about how Amazon treated the workers who powered its rise were tarnishing his legacy. During the pandemic, Mr. Bezos’ personal wealth exploded from $110 billion to more than $190 billion. He had also been building a $500 million superyacht, according to the new book “Amazon Unbound,” and preparing for his first spaceflight after investing billions in his rocket company, Blue Origin.

Mr. Bezos’ commitment in April to become “Earth’s best employer” raised questions — about what exactly that meant, and how far he and his successors would go.

Amazon soon rolled out more raises. Starting wages at JFK8 went up 50 cents, to $18.25. The company announced safety initiatives and diversity plans, including a goal to “retain employees at statistically similar rates across all demographics” — an implicit admission that the numbers had been uneven across races. Ms. Weishalla’s successors on Staten Island were holding weekly “talent review” meetings to ensure that Black and Latino workers, among others, were finding advancement opportunities.

In an interview, Mr. Agboka, the head of warehouse human resources, acknowledged that the company had relied too heavily on technology to manage workers. “We’re recognizing that in many times, where we thought self-service was good, self-service was not the only — can’t be the only — solution,” he said. “Every experience matters. And when the experiences aren’t right, we’ve got to find a way to fix it.”

But it wasn’t clear how much the company was willing to reconsider the sacrosanct systems of productivity, automation and high turnover that propelled it to dominance. “Are they going to address the issue of an expendable work force?” asked Mr. Cavagnaro, the fired worker who was returning to JFK8. “Are there going to be any changes?”

After repeated inquiries from The Times about the time off task policy and Dayana Santos, the JFK worker who challenged her termination, Amazon this month announced an immediate change: No longer could someone be fired for one bad day. All those who had been were now eligible for rehiring. The company said it had been reconsidering the policy for months.

In Seattle, Paul Stroup, whose teams studied Amazon’s hourly work force, watched the recent events and read Mr. Bezos’ letter. He felt caught between skepticism and hope that the company would finally deploy what he considered its best qualities — a penchant for fresh, open-minded thinking and tackling ambiguous, hard problems — in service of its workers.

“It would be an amazing thing for hourly employment across industries,” he wrote in a note on LinkedIn. “Jeff’s comment makes me think things could change, but it may be too late to reverse the damage it has done.”

“Now,” he said, “let’s see if they can innovate their way out of this.”

 Methodology for turnover analysis

The Times analysis of employee turnover shows the rate at which employees leave a company over a yearly period, using data through the first quarter of 2020. The analysis was based on warehousing and storage labor data in counties with newly-opened Amazon fulfillment and distribution centers from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Quarterly Workforce Indicators. The annual turnover rate was calculated by county for each quarter by dividing the number of total separations over a four-quarter period by the average employment over a four-quarter period using that quarter and the previous three quarters. The analysis averaged four quarters of data to account for seasonal employment. The average turnover rate across the 83 counties where data was available was weighted by the total number of warehouse and storage workers employed in each county during that quarter.

This methodology is based on research by Irene Tung and Deborah Berkowitz for the National Employment Law Project.

 

AND

 

POWER AND PERIL: 5 TAKEAWAYS ON AMAZON’S EMPLOYMENT MACHINE

Outsiders see a business success story for the ages. Many insiders see an employment system under strain.

By Jodi KantorKaren Weise and Grace Ashford  June 15, 2021  Updated 9:21 a.m. ET

 

An Amazon worker tries to return from a Covid-related leave and is mistakenly fired. A wife panics as disability benefits halt for her gravely ill husband. An employee is fired for having a single underproductive day.

An examination by The New York Times into how the pandemic unfolded inside Amazon’s only fulfillment center in New York City, known as JFK8, found that the crisis exposed the power and peril of Amazon’s employment system. The company famously obsessed with satisfying customers achieved record growth and spectacular profits, but its management of hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers was marked at times by critical mistakes, communication lapses and high turnover.

Here are the takeaways:

1. Amazon has been churning through employees.

Amazon conducted a hiring surge in 2020 that was unparalleled in American corporate history. In just three months, it signed up 350,000 workers — more than the population of St. Louis — offering a wage of at least $15 an hour and good benefits.

But even before the pandemic, previously unreported data shows, Amazon was losing about 3 percent of its hourly associates each week — meaning its turnover was roughly 150 percent a year. At that rate, Amazon had to replace the equivalent of its entire work force roughly every eight months.

Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, responded to questions about the company’s turnover by saying, “Attrition is only one data point, which when used alone lacks important context.”

Inside Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, the turnover has made some executives worry that the company may run out of workers. Paul Stroup, who until recently led human resources teams focused on understanding warehouse workers, felt disappointed that he “didn’t hear long-term thinking” about the company’s quick cycling through workers. He likened it to using fossil fuels despite climate change.

“We keep using them,” he said, “even though we know we’re slowly cooking ourselves.”

2. Buggy and patchwork systems caused some workers to lose their benefits, and even their jobs, in error.

More than 25 current and former Amazon employees who worked on the disability and leave system bemoaned its inadequacy in interviews, calling it a source of frustration and panic. The problems escalated during the early months of the pandemic, when a new case management system designed to address the problems and provide flexibility was still buggy. Workers who had applied for leaves were penalized for missing work, triggering job-abandonment notices and then terminations.

“Please note the following,” Dan Cavagnaro, a JFK8 worker, wrote in a final, unanswered email plea. “I WISH TO REMAIN EMPLOYED WITH AMAZON.”

He was mistakenly fired anyway.

Dangelo Padilla, who worked as an Amazon case manager at a back office in Costa Rica, said he had witnessed numerous people being fired for no reason.

 “I saw those situations every day,” he said.

Ms. Nantel, the spokeswoman, said the company had quickly approved personal leaves during the pandemic, hiring 500 people to help process the increased volume, and worked hard to contact employees before they were fired to see if they wanted to keep their jobs.

3. Amazon’s strict monitoring of workers has stoked a culture of fear.

Amazon tracks workers’ every movement inside its warehouses. Employees who work too slowly, or are idle for too long, risk being fired.

Dayana Santos was a top performer when she had one bad day in 2019. Her bus was late, then her department was reassigned, causing her to scour the warehouse for a new workstation. That afternoon, she was stunned to find that she was being fired for having too much “time off task,” or T.O.T.

Very few associates are fired for low productivity or time off task, but employees don’t know that. The goal, JFK8’s internal guidelines state, “is to create an environment not where we are writing everyone up, but that associates know that we are auditing for T.O.T.”

The system was designed to identify impediments a worker may face, but some executives, including the early architect of Amazon’s warehouse human relations, worry that the metrics now cast an outsize shadow on the work force, creating an anxious, negative environment.

After questions about Ms. Santos and T.O.T. from The Times, Amazon announced changes to its policy so that workers would never be fired for one bad day. Ms. Santos and all those like her are now eligible to be rehired. The company said it had been reconsidering the policy for months.

4. There is rising concern over racial inequity.

The retail giant is largely powered by employees of color. According to internal records from 2019, more than 60 percent of associates at JFK8 are Black or Latino.

And Black associates at the warehouse were almost 50 percent more likely to be fired — whether for productivity, misconduct or absenteeism — than their white peers, the records show. (Amazon said it could not confirm the data without knowing more specifics about its source.)

Derrick Palmer, a Black worker at JFK8, began at the company in 2015 as an enthusiast, and he was often a top producer.

But between the constant monitoring, the assumption that many workers are slackers and the lack of advancement opportunity, “a lot of minority workers just felt like we were being used,” Mr. Palmer said. His comments echoed the sentiment of Black workers behind an unsuccessful unionization campaign at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama this year.

This spring, the company introduced a host of diversity plans, including a goal to “retain employees at statistically similar rates across all demographics” — an implicit admission that the numbers had been uneven across races. At JFK8, leaders are holding weekly “talent review” meetings to ensure that Black and Latino workers, among others, are advancing.

5. Many of Amazon’s most contentious policies go back to Jeff Bezos’ original vision.

Some of the practices that most frustrate employees — the short-term-employment model, with little opportunity for advancement, and the use of technology to hire, monitor and manage workers — come from Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive.

He believed that an entrenched work force created a “march to mediocrity,” said David Niekerk, a former long-serving vice president who built the company’s original human resources operations in the warehouses.

Company data showed that most employees became less eager over time, he said, and Mr. Bezos believed that people were inherently lazy. “What he would say is that our nature as humans is to expend as little energy as possible to get what we want or need,” Mr. Niekerk said. That conviction was embedded throughout the business, from the ease of instant ordering to the pervasive use of data to get the most out of employees.

Mr. Bezos recently made startling concessions about the system he invented. In a letter to shareholders, he said the union effort in Alabama had shown that “we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success” — and vowed to become “Earth’s best employer.”

What is not clear is how or whether he and his successors will reassess the systems that have propelled Amazon’s dominance.

Mr. Cavagnaro, the worker Amazon inadvertently fired, asked: “Are they going to address the issue of an expendable work force? Are there going to be any changes?”

 

Jodi Kantor is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and best-selling author. She and Megan Twohey are the co-authors of “She Said”, which recounts how the reporters broke the story of sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, helping to ignite the #MeToo movement. @jodikantor  Facebook

Karen Weise is a technology correspondent based in Seattle, covering Amazon, Microsoft, and the region's tech scene. Before joining The Times in 2018, she worked for Bloomberg Businessweek and Bloomberg News, as well as ProPublica. @kyweise

Grace Ashford is a researcher and reporter with the Investigations unit. Her recent work has focused on city housing policy and the crisis of affordability in New York. 

 

ATTACHMENT THREE – FROM Geekwire

 

AMAZON ADDS TWO NEW LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLES JUST DAYS BEFORE JEFF BEZOS STEPS DOWN AS CEO

BY TAYLOR SOPER on July 1, 2021 at 6:25 am

 

Amazon is adding two new leadership principles that reflect how the company is evolving as the tech behemoth faces increasing scrutiny from regulators and a growing negative public perception.

The additions are a big deal given how the existing 14 leadership principles guide Amazon’s day-to-day operations. It’s the first time Amazon has added to the list since 2015 when the company included a 14th principle, “Learn and Be Curious.”

The new principles are being added just days before Jeff Bezos steps down as CEO and passes the reins to Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy on Monday.

Here are the two new principles:

Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer

Leaders work every day to create a safer, more productive, higher performing, more diverse, and more just work environment. They lead with empathy, have fun at work, and make it easy for others to have fun. Leaders ask themselves: Are my fellow employees growing? Are they empowered? Are they ready for what’s next? Leaders have a vision for and commitment to their employees’ personal success, whether that be at Amazon or elsewhere.

Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility

We started in a garage, but we’re not there anymore. We are big, we impact the world, and we are far from perfect. We must be humble and thoughtful about even the secondary effects of our actions. Our local communities, planet, and future generations need us to be better every day. We must begin each day with a determination to make better, do better, and be better for our customers, our employees, our partners, and the world at large. And we must end every day knowing we can do even more tomorrow. Leaders create more than they consume and always leave things better than how they found them.

Both new principles are in line with the themes sounded by Bezos in his final shareholder letter as Amazon CEO, which focused on the company’s treatment of employees. The leadership principles start off with a call to obsess about the customer, but now the tech giant needs to turn its focus to the company’s 1.3 million employees, Bezos wrote in the letter.

“Despite what we’ve accomplished, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success,” Bezos wrote. “We have always wanted to be Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company. We won’t change that. It’s what got us here. But I am committing us to an addition. We are going to be Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”

Employees have called on Amazon over the years to add new principles that focus more on how the company treats its workforce.

Amazon’s treatment of employees has been under the microscope in recent months. There was a closely-watched unionization movement at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. Employees voted against union representation in April by a large margin, ending what was the most serious effort to unionize a segment of the workforce in the 27-year-old company.

A 15th Amazon leadership principle? Former exec floats new idea for tech giant’s next era

Earlier this month Amazon’s employment practices came under the microscope as two detailed reports from the New York Times and Recode revealed how the company is struggling to manage its massive workforce amid allegations of racial inequity and poor treatment of warehouse workers.

The New York Times investigation showed that the company’s method of managing its people was strained as the retail giant “burned through” workers at a New York City fulfillment center during the pandemic amid firings, stalled benefits and failed communication.

Recode’s report cited dozens of Amazon’s Black employees who recounted racial bias and discrimination against them.

Meanwhile, Amazon, along with other tech companies such as Facebook and Google, is facing new federal antitrust legislation that could change the way its sprawling business operates.

The increased scrutiny comes as the company’s revenue has surged to record levels amid the pandemic. Amazon blew past expectations for its first fiscal quarter earnings, posting revenue of $108.5 billion, up 44% year-over-year, and earnings per share of $15.79, up from $5.01. Profits of $8.1 billion and an operating margin of 8.2% set new records.

Amazon’s stock is up nearly 10% this year, and has almost doubled since the pandemic began in 2020, trading Thursday at around $3,440/share. The company’s market capitalization is now $1.73 trillion.

Bezos will step down as CEO on Monday, replaced by Jassy. But he’ll remain executive chairman and will stay engaged.

“In my upcoming role as Executive Chair, I’m going to focus on new initiatives,” Bezos wrote in the shareholders letter. “I’m an inventor. It’s what I enjoy the most and what I do best. It’s where I create the most value. I’m excited to work alongside the large team of passionate people we have in Ops and help invent in this arena of Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”

Here is Amazon’s updated list of 16 leadership principles:

Customer Obsession

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Ownership

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.”

Invent and Simplify

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.” As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

Are Right, A Lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Learn and Be Curious

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

Hire and Develop the Best

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

Insist on the Highest Standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards — many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Think Big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Frugality

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

Earn Trust

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Dive Deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver Results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer

Leaders work every day to create a safer, more productive, higher performing, more diverse, and more just work environment. They lead with empathy, have fun at work, and make it easy for others to have fun. Leaders ask themselves: Are my fellow employees growing? Are they empowered? Are they ready for what’s next? Leaders have a vision for and commitment to their employees’ personal success, whether that be at Amazon or elsewhere.

Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility

We started in a garage, but we’re not there anymore. We are big, we impact the world, and we are far from perfect. We must be humble and thoughtful about even the secondary effects of our actions. Our local communities, planet, and future generations need us to be better every day. We must begin each day with a determination to make better, do better, and be better for our customers, our employees, our partners, and the world at large. And we must end every day knowing we can do even more tomorrow. Leaders create more than they consume and always leave things better than how they found them.

 

ATTACHMENT FOUR – FROM The New Republic

In her new book, On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane, Guendelsberger re-creates a version of Barbara Ehrenreich’s famous experiment in Nickel and Dimed. Guendelsberger, a reporter for the alt-weekly Philadelphia City Paper until it was sold off and shut down in 2015, went undercover at three low-wage workplaces: an Amazon warehouse in Indiana, a call center in North Carolina, and a McDonald’s in San Francisco. Whereas Ehrenreich’s main discovery was that there still existed an exploited working class—a controversial point in the late 1990s and early 2000s—Guendelsberger takes inequality and exploitation as given, asking instead what these jobs are doing to the millions who work them.

A review by Gabriel Winant

What does the phrase “in the weeds” mean to you? In the professional-managerial class, “in the weeds” signifies knotty detail (as in the Vox public policy podcast, The Weeds). In the working class, Guendelsberger points out, “in the weeds” means the same thing “swamped” does in professional-speak: overwhelmed and stressed out. And America’s working class, Guendelsberger argues, is in the weeds all the time, increasingly subjected to an automated neo-Taylorism. Workers are scheduled by algorithm, their tasks timed automatically, and their performance surveilled digitally. This was what she learned on these jobs: “The weeds are a terribly toxic place for human beings. The weeds make us crazy. The weeds make us sick. The weeds destroy family life. The weeds push people into addiction. The weeds will literally kill you.”

What Guendelsberger found in her experiment was that employers now “demand a workforce that can think, talk, feel, and pick stuff up like humans—but with as few needs outside of work as robots. They insist their workers amputate the messy human bits of themselves—family, hunger, thirst, emotions, the need to make rent, sickness, fatigue, boredom, depression, traffic.” The results are “cyborg jobs,” and they account, by Guendelsberger’s reckoning, for almost half of the American workforce. The hidden moments of reclaimed freedom that make any job bearable are being discovered and wiped out by bosses everywhere: That trick you used to use to slow down the machine won’t work anymore; or that window of 23 minutes when you knew your boss couldn’t watch you is vanishing. Whatever little piece of humanity survived in these fragments dies with them.

In her first job, at an Amazon “fulfillment center,” Guendelsberger finds a regime that is Taylor’s “vision incarnate.” (One co-worker, sensing Taylor’s ghost, theorizes that Amazon is “a sociological experiment on how far a corporation can push people.”) Guendelsberger, a “picker,” is made to carry on her waist a scanner gun, which monitors her location, tells her the precise item among the hundreds of thousands in the warehouse that she is to go pluck from the shelves, its location, and how much time she has to do it. A sliding bar counts down as seconds go by, haranguing her. When she’s identified the shelf in the vast facility, dug through the bin, and scanned the item, the next one appears right away.

While Amazon warehouses—generally in the ruins of economically depressed cities—often offer better wages than whatever else is around, it’s the time-discipline that kills you. The job is extremely monotonous. (To cope, Guendelsberger sews earbuds into her cap in violation of company policy.) When it’s time for breaks, it takes her so long to reach the exit of the massive warehouse that she must almost immediately turn around and go back to work. On top of the stress, it’s physically painful. The company’s time-off policy, she observes, is literally worse than Scrooge’s in A Christmas Carol. Amazon dispenses free painkillers to workers, and Guendelsberger quickly loses track of how many she is taking.   Crime?  At one point, as she squats down to retrieve an item from a low shelf, her body “mutinies,” she writes. “Stand up, I order my legs for the hundredth time today, but it’s as if they’ve gotten fed up with all the abuse and hung up on my brain. Stand up, you idiot, my brain screams as I slowly topple backwards into a sitting position.” Another worker complains, “My feet are, like, mincemeat. I used to walk twenty miles a day with a backpack on and not change my socks, and they never looked as fucked up as they are now.”

The other jobs more or less go this way, too. At the call center, Convergys, Guendelsberger learns she is the human shield between the frustrated customer and the disdainful, predatory company. (And it turns out you can get MRSA at your workstation if you’re not careful.) At this job, the staff are required to try to push sales on callers throughout the interaction, although customers have generally picked up the phone to try to solve a problem with a cable bill. The aggravated callers take it out on the workers, who must multitask among dysfunctional, incompatible computer systems while empathizing and upselling. Guendelsberger begins imagining herself as multiple personalities: Helper Emily, Sales Emily, Protocol Emily, Scribe Emily, Conversation Emily, Short-Term Memory Emily, Awareness Emily, Journalist Emily, and Boss Emily—who has to monitor all the other ones. “Her job sucks.” Her worst call comes from another call-center worker, using her own lunch break as her only opportunity to try to sort out some service problem.

Call center workers are monitored, disciplined, and reprimanded for time theft if they try to switch the system off between calls. Guendelsberger, admirably widely read and eclectic, introduced the reader to Taylor in the Amazon section of the book; here she provides a brief lesson on Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, tossed in with a bit of evolutionary psychology. How would you act if you knew your supervisor might be watching at any time, or that any customer might blow up at you for reasons you can’t control? You’d be on hair-trigger—all of every day. And your body and brain aren’t built for that. Stress response is supposed to be short-term, fight-or-flight. To do it all of every day is to take a soak in an acid bath. (Guendelsberger conveys this by a parable about a backyard-dwelling, rapidly evolving hominid named Wanda; unaccountably, it works.)

The final workplace, a McDonald’s, leaves the least impression—if only because it’s the most familiar. It’s not hard to imagine why serving fast food is terrible work, even setting aside the poverty wages. “There’s always a line,” writes Guendelsberger. “We’re always in the weeds.” As at the call center, she must interact directly with customers, and attempt to fit their demands into the more-or-less preprogrammed pace of production, which she must also keep moving. She gets cut at one point checking on the coffee—you can never let the coffee run out—when the handle breaks and the pot falls on her. Had she not been wearing pants easily removed from her legs, she’d have been burned badly also, since McDonald’s holds its coffee at near-boiling so it will keep longer. “It frequently feels like we’ve been understaffed at the precise levels that will maximize human misery on both sides of the counter.”

The hidden moments of reclaimed freedom that make any job bearable are being discovered and wiped out by bosses everywhere.

If McDonald’s is like Convergys in that it involves handling people, it differs in that the unruly customers are right there, in person. They can get in her face. An impatient, bossy one (“Hurry up hurry up hurry up”) demands extra honey mustard from her, which technically she’s not supposed to give. (“Honey mustard! Get me honey mustard!”) Guendelsberger breaks the rule to avoid confrontation. But she’s unsteady with anger, and a packet of condiment slips from her hand and over the counter. “Quick as a shortstop, [the customer] scoops it up and wings it at my chest, hard. The packaging explodes; honey mustard splatters all over me and the surrounding area.” The customer, backed up by a friend, accuses Guendelsberger of having thrown the mustard first. Of course—more victim-blaming. It’s the 2010s.

Seen from Guendelsberger’s point of view, America’s working class is quivering in stress and fear, hurting from torn-up feet, and all covered in honey mustard. The economic miseries inflicted on working-class people are bad enough, but here Guendelsberger has identified something deeper and arguably worse: “Chronic stress drains people’s empathy, patience, and tolerance for new things.” We’ve been brutalized, bullied, and baited into being trained work-animals and not even afforded a corresponding pay bump. No wonder our society fell apart.

 

On to “Moloch”, the name Fraser gives to this situation…“The Moloch of capitalism (being) as deadly and merciless as its Canaanite ancestor. But its altars are everywhere, virtually invisible yet part of the warp and woof of everyday life: at one moment prayed to on Wall Street, at another configuring the most hidden desires and anxieties of everyone’s emotional life.” These prayers, desires, and anxieties—their histories, their infernal dynamics—are the subject of the book’s eleven essays, which touch on virtually the full sweep of American history. Where Guendelsberger, the plucky reporter, came at the problem up close, Fraser—an eminent labor historian—stands back to try to size the whole thing up. Echoing an old-fashioned style of American Studies scholarship, he’s interested in origin myths and in something like a national psyche.

The essays in Mongrel Firebugs summarize and build on two of Fraser’s recent books, The Limousine Liberal and, especially, The Age of Acquiescence — a late-career magnum opus. While the new book’s contents were largely written for magazine readerships over the last ten years and Fraser approaches them in the loose way of a storyteller, they display his encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. history, especially working-class history. (Fraser’s early career was characterized by pathbreaking original scholarship on the labor movement of the early twentieth century, including a masterful biography of garment workers’ leader Sidney Hillman, Labor Will Rule, and the 1989 edited collection The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, which continues to set historians’ agendas today.)

In his recent work, and especially in the essays collected here, Fraser traces a distinct arc across the history of American capitalism. The nineteenth century was the age of capital’s ravenous growth, consuming all in its path. “It proceeded relentlessly,” he writes, “appropriating land and resources both human and natural that had once been off limits because they were enmeshed in alternative forms of slave, petty, and subsistence economies.” In the face of this social apocalypse, people resisted vigorously, turning the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries into a period of protracted and often violent social conflict, which he calls a “Second Civil War.” “The legions of the displaced became charter members of an American proletariat. Their new existence was both a promise and a reproach,” writes Fraser.

This is the age of the mass strike and the general strike, events that escaped the confines of any particular employer-employee relationship and became instead the cri de coeur of a whole new world, as for example in the national crusade for the eight-hour day.

It’s likely that Henry “Schmidt” Noll saw some of this action himself: Bethlehem Steel had fierce strikes in 1910, 1918, and 1919.

Decades of such struggles culminated in the New Deal. Workers at Bethlehem Steel, for example, struck again in 1937 and 1941—alongside millions of others around the country in these years. Finally, they won recognition (but not from amazon), and they were quickly co-opted into the American mainstream. The conservative compromises that initially stabilized this new order—reinstitutionalized racial and gender hierarchies, coercive deradicalization of labor, private administration of the incomplete welfare state—also left it riddled with contradictions, ultimately producing its decay into neoliberalism in the 1970s.

Here Fraser arrives at his new great subject, the psychic economy of our time. Where the first “Gilded Age” saw enormous resistance to inequality, Fraser argues, ours has seen a distracted, demoralized culture of compliance. Economic risk-taking, positively stigmatized after the Great Depression, is now spoken of in heroic terms: To the risk-taker go the spoils. (Google “risk-taker” and try not to shudder at what you see.) De facto debt servitude and penal labor are back, too, although neither is met with the outrage one might have expected based on earlier historical experience. (Coal miners in Tennessee took up arms in the 1890s to free convict laborers, grasping what the practice portended for themselves.) Unemployment, understood through the late nineteenth century as a grotesque and unacceptable social phenomenon and resisted in spectacular episodes of collective action, is now accepted as natural—cyclical, like the seasons.

Painfully, the most potent strand of resistance instead has been the right-wing populist outrage of the petit bourgeois against the “limousine liberal.” In the book’s later entries, Fraser explores this American demagogic tradition, finding Donald Trump’s clearest predecessor in William Randolph Hearst. Though here, too, he notes, irresponsible populism a century ago required a pro-labor posture. “Today’s right-wing populists are hardly about to invoke the anti-capitalism that impassioned the people Hearst counted on. On the contrary, what draws them to The Donald is that he is an übermensch risen atop the capitalist order.” Trump in this way only exemplifies the phenomenon of the ascent of the family capitalists—like the Kochs, Waltons, and so on—in whose hands enormous wealth has accumulated in recent years, and who, liberal and reactionary alike, manifest “godlike desire to create the world in their image.” The worship they receive, at its apex in Trump’s presence in the White House, suggests that their apotheosis has been successful—“the genie grown monstrous,” as Fraser puts it.

For Fraser, the cause of this deep ideological transformation lies in the altered “metabolism” of capitalism. Where once it produced upheaval by swallowing everything it could chew, today its systems are basically expulsive: unemployment and exclusion, rather than coerced assimilation and employment. “The gears of Progress, that demiurge of the first Gilded Age, were set in reverse,” Fraser writes. Capitalism “autocannibalized” itself, and the spirit of the new age was accordingly the dejection of the social reject, not the outrage of the unwilling conscript.

 

 

Indeed, Fraser can’t help but telegraph his own dejection. “There is abroad in the world the spirit of Moloch,” he concludes, “luridly lighting up the abyss out of which Trump has emerged.” While his last lines call for renewed dreams of emancipation, he hasn’t devoted much space to searching out where such dreams might come from, and doesn’t seem to have much faith that they’ll materialize. Here the gap between Fraser’s defeated New Left generation and Guendelsberger’s defiant Millennials looms large.

The generational difference is political, but it’s also sociological. Guendelsberger, unlike her direct predecessor Ehrenreich, isn’t exactly slumming it—she doesn’t have as far to fall. Through much of Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich is tormented by the ethical implications of the social distance between herself and her co-workers. Guendelsberger, on the other hand, is fairly unbothered on this count; she was already unemployed when she embarked on her project. She sleeps in her car for significant portions of the narrative, and accepts the charity of her workmates gratefully. She began the book, in fact, on spec—she only got her contract during her second stint, at Convergys. “Even if nothing came of it, I figured, I would at least bank a couple thousand bucks.”

The contrast with the conception of Nickel and Dimed—brainstormed over salmon with Lewis Lapham—is a perfect index of what the last 20 years have done to the once-secure professional strata. Ehrenreich set out to rediscover the lost land of the working class as a self-conscious representative of the complacent middle class, in order to send word back and stimulate the numbed yuppie conscience. After another generation of neoliberalism, the line between these two groups has blurred, so this interpreter act seems less urgent. Guendelsberger herself straddles the line, and she imagines her reader does, too. “Yeah, you, mamá,” she writes in her afterword, hailing the reader the way workers addressed each other at McDonald’s. “You’re a worker too—just like me and Jess and Zeb and Candela and Kolbi and Miguel and the Mustard Lady.”

The “Amazonians” are told repeatedly that they’re making history, and many seem to believe it. Complaining co-workers are often dismissed as ingrates.

To be sure, the places Guendelsberger went to work are saturated with the poisonous ideologies Fraser explores. The Convergys staff are continuously surveilled for “time theft” while the employer steals time from workers left and right. The “Amazonians” are told repeatedly that they’re making history, and many seem to believe it. Complaining co-workers are often dismissed as ingrates. (“if You think Amazon is bad, try McDonalds you McBitches,” an online commenter scolds.) One warehouse workmate, “Blair,” both frets constantly about following the rules and aspires to beat the world record for fastest picker. She hopes in this way to prove that humans will always beat robots. As Guendelsberger observes, Blair resembles John Henry, the mighty, tall-tale figure who raced against the new steam drill, blasting through mountainside with only his hammer—winning, but dying with his hammer in his hand.  (Or, given the comity between Commies, Amazon and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, the Stakhnovite horse “Boxer” who works himself to death for his pig-masters.

The Steel-Driving Man—likely a black convict laborer, and a slight physical figure in reality—was memorialized in what became one of the most popular American folk songs from the turn of the twentieth century through the Great Depression. Around the country, laborers kept pace with their machines, intoning, “I’ll die with this hammer in my hand.” John Henry, threatened and ultimately killed by the machine, yet still triumphant, became one of the most potent symbols of workers’ explosive resistance to primitive accumulation. His legend, as the historian Scott Reynolds Nelson shows in his extraordinary book Steel Drivin’ Man, resonated across sectors of the new proletariat that shared nothing but a common hostility to the new order.

On the other hand, you may bet safely that Uber drivers, adjunct professors, and home health aides will not pass away their own toilsome hours by singing songs about Blair’s race with the algorithm. Blair is doing what John Henry did, but the act’s meaning is inverted: It signifies the power of the boss’s ideology, not its rejection. She’s the perfect example of Fraser’s argument.

 

Because Guendelsberger is herself a precarious journalism worker, she has little trouble discovering and slipping into the currents of solidarity that flow under the surface in almost all workplaces. Labor in capitalism is nearly always, in some way, social. Subdivided over and over by Taylor and those who came before and after him, capitalist production requires that people work together. No matter how hard management tries to keep them from getting to know and trust each other, they always will, at least a little. “We’re all in this together against the stopwatches and the sharks,” writes Guendelsberger. (She deploys an extended shark metaphor at one point.) “And we may be only human, but there’s a whole lot of us.” It is this social aspect of labor that is the key to unlock the ideological prison that Fraser describes. Guendelsberger concludes the book with a prediction: “You’ll meet other people who think the status quo is cruel and ridiculous—they’re literally everywhere.… You’ll come to feel a bond with them that’s stronger than friendship. You’ll become part of something bigger than yourself—and weirdly, you’ll feel more in control of your life than you have in years.”

Guendelsberger worked at Amazon during early winter. She writes of the stress of the holiday season as a horrible speedup, a kind of waking nightmare: She can’t control her tormented body, she’s bored, stressed, and depressed all at once. But, it turns out, this isn’t the only way to experience the busy season. With a week to go until Christmas, she finds her way to a tent village where a group of temporary workers are staying. They have mini-pizzas, and she brings beer and some cookies. They tell Guendelsberger she’s got it all wrong—she’s been working much too hard. You only need to make rate if you’re trying to get promoted and stick around for a long time. Explains one named Matthias, “They need us there more than they’re paying us.” Testing the limits, he managed to take 48 extra minutes off before lunch recently before they came and talked to him. He points out, “‘The facility as a whole was already operating at 110 percent—at that point, what the hell does it actually matter?’” Matthias says, “affecting a cheery, brainwashed tone, ‘We’re Making HistoryExceeding Expectations!’”

A group of transient temps taking long breaks and mocking Jeff Bezos around a campfire isn’t a revolution, but it’s not nothing either. As Guendelsberger says, some version of this is, necessarily, everywhere. On your own, it’s hard to know whether you really do need to make rate, or what to do when someone throws mustard at you and they say you started it. It’s easy to crack under this pressure: Moloch is powerful and frightening. But the thing about false gods is that they truly cannot abide being mocked, and there’s always someone else who sees through it, too—more, in fact, every day. The boss may have an all-seeing panopticon, but the prehistory of every strike begins when one worker catches another’s eye.

Gabriel Winant is a historian, currently completing a book on care work and deindustrialization.

 

ATTACHMENT FIVE – from the BBC

 

VIEWPOINT: ARE AMAZON'S FEEDBACK TACTICS UNUSUAL?

Published  22 August 2015

 

Allegations about Amazon's workplace culture have generated a furore this week. But many of the things Amazon has been accused of have been tried before, writes Peter Fleming.

One of the more interesting excursions that reality TV has made into the workplace is the series Undercover Boss. A chief executive dons a disguise and enters the lowest ranks of the large corporation they run. Instead of meeting a happy workforce, they instead find misery, managerial meanness and bizarre levels of micro-regulation.

The New York Times's recent exposé of life for Amazon's white-collar workforce has done something similar, but without the participation of chief executive Jeff Bezos in disguise. Much of the attention was on the highly individualised "rank and yank" performance review where employees are regularly reviewed, stack ranked, and the worst performers fired.

The newspaper described a data-led performance management system that documented almost every action - including how long it took to reply to an email. There was also the Anytime Feedback Tool, where workers could leave anonymous comments about each other's performance to the boss. A former employee complained it could be used to sabotage co-workers and exact revenge. It "promises to turn the annual performance review into a daily event", the report said.

Jeff Bezos responded angrily to the New York Times allegations. In a memo to staff, he accused the paper of grossly misrepresenting the firm: "The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day."

Much of the media reportage got the wrong end of the stick about Amazon's micro-management philosophy in representing it as some aberrant and highly unusual case.

It has been noted that major companies including General Electric, Microsoft and Accenture Consulting have all abandoned the "rank and yank" type of performance review because of the disorder and mistrust it creates.

So is the Amazon management philosophy really an unusual outlier in the corporate world? It's worth looking at the reader responses to the story.

Apart from the predictable outrage ("After reading this article, I want to vomit") and notes of approval ("America needs more companies like Amazon") the comments section teems with "my firm does that too" nuggets of insight.

For example: "I am an engineer at the biggest semiconductor company in the world. I have worked here for 17 years. I can only say the work environment described in this article is very similar to where I am working."

The vision of Amazon's office culture set up in the New York Times article really is no deviation from the classic precepts of managerial capitalism.

If the New York Times allegations were true, Amazon has simply taken a fairly traditional managerial creed - numerically record every human employee action in the workplace so that it can be completely controlled - and enlisted "big data" to invent a surveillance machine.

According to the control-obsessed Frederick Winslow Taylor - a management consultant who observed steel factory workers in the early 20th Century - the first principle of management was very simple.

He wanted to scientifically measure every part of the job so that he understood it far better than the employee actually doing it. For this he used a stopwatch. Then he ranked each worker's output individually and rewarded them accordingly.

Taylor was driven by a deep worry. If employees hid their behaviour from managers, especially in group settings, they would end up controlling the production process rather than supervisors. The legacy of this paranoia is still prevalent in today's modern offices.

But the reason workers despised this so-called "scientific management" style was not because they wanted to stage a revolution or take over the means of production.

No, it's just very difficult to do the job well under such conditions. We become more concerned about what the metrics say, compulsively comparing ourselves to others, usually in a state of anxiety. And let's not even mention cooperation. Getting the job done well becomes a secondary issue.

It might be argued that using hyper-individualised big data to control workplace behaviour truly enters another arena with Amazon's Anytime Feedback Tool. But similar systems have been common in offices for some time, most notably the "360 degree" appraisal method where employees are evaluated by their supervisor and anonymously by their co-workers and subordinates. It's been around since World War Two.

The trouble is that anonymous assessments hardly ever promote objectivity. Especially when the comments capture spur of the moment gripes.

It's similar to the "disinhibitor effect" among internet users. All kinds of devious and ugly thoughts end up being expressed, many of which may not actually be genuinely endorsed when the evaluator is confronted face-to-face.

This is why seasoned business advisers are so wary of anonymous peer appraisals. The opportunity for what might be called "office trolling" is ample.

Almost every business guru now pontificates on the virtues of "completing the feedback circle" as swiftly as possible. This is the circuit between performance (what we do) evaluation (by a customer, boss, peers) and feedback (the packaged information returned to the individual so that their behaviour can be corrected).

The faster the feedback, the better. Electronically derived data makes it possible, perhaps for the first time, to close this circle instantaneously. A process of constant performance review.

But do abstract numbers really give us a complete picture about how well an individual is performing in say, a meeting? Or a team's effectiveness given it can consist of different individuals with diverse roles? Many would say not.

What once used to be conducted with stopwatches has now been taken to the nth degree with computers. Perhaps this is why so many managers today - in the public and private sectors - suffer from a crippling "spreadsheet mentality". Screeds of numbers are mistakenly treated like some sacred truth about what makes employees tick.

Frederick Taylor would have loved "big data" and the Anytime Feedback Tool. In his time, however, Taylor's ideas sparked widespread riots. Will the data-led management fad exemplified by Amazon do the same?

APPARANTLY NOT.

 

 

ATTACHMENT SIX - From Kurt Vonnegut, in Libretti (Usenet)…

 

“I’m brought back to Kurt Vonnegut’s classic 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, as Vonnegut really puts his finger on this damaging ideological hate — and self-hatred — animating U.S. politics and culture. His character Howard Campbell, an American who has become a Nazi propagandist, writes a monograph about American culture, in which he diagnoses the hatred of those who make less money — a hatred that is also internalized. The monograph reads:

“‘America is the wealthiest nation on earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand — glued to a popsicle stick and flying from the cash register.’

“This passage captures something we see with Trump, which he didn’t create but which he plays on and perpetuates. We see it in his mocking of Ocasio-Cortez being a bartender; we see it when he mocks a journalist with a disability; we see it when he mocks “losers”; and we see it in his everyday cruelty, racism, and sexism. He hates those “losers” living on the lower rungs of our world, those who make less money and have less power, influence, and glory. He fuels people’s internalization of these values.

“So the question is: how can a leader in a representative democracy represent those he hates?”

 

 

ATTACHMENT Seven - From Jacobin

 

AMAZON PRIME DAY IS A NIGHTMARE FOR AMAZON WORKERS

BY ALEX N. PRESS

 

Amazon can’t even accept limits when it comes to its own self-created holiday.

Despite the name, Prime Day is not one day. This year, it will take place on June 21 and 22. When the “holiday” was conjured into existence in 2015 to boost sales during the relative lull of the summer season, Prime Day marked twenty years of Amazon and ten years of Amazon Prime. It lasted all of two years before the length of the day began expanding: in 2017, Prime Day went on for thirty hours. In 2018, it was thirty-six hours. By 2019, it had reached its current duration: forty-eight hours.

By then, the exercise was observed in eighteen countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Singapore, the Netherlands, Mexico, Luxembourg, Japan, Italy, India, Germany, France, China, Canada, Belgium, Austria, Australia, and, for the first time, the United Arab Emirates. That was the year Taylor Swift headlined the Prime Day concert, an aggressive amalgam of ads for Amazon products occasionally interrupted by music. Naturally, people could watch the event live on Amazon Prime Video. The figures were huge: 175 million items purchased, with sales reaching over $7 billion.

But if Prime Day means deals for consumers, it has a different valence for the hundreds of thousands of people who work in Amazon’s warehouses. For those people, Prime Day means mandatory overtime, with shifts extended from ten to twelve hours, or extra shifts added to their schedule. One worker recently told me he’ll be mandated to work fifty-five hours this week. He’s in pain and a doctor told him it’s carpal tunnel syndrome, but he hasn’t filed paperwork with Amazon because that requires him to go to another doctor to get diagnosed, and he doesn’t have time to do that. Another person, who has since left the company, told me she was pressured to work for over twenty-four hours straight on Prime Day.

Amazon is notoriously secretive about its data, but recent reporting shows the extent of the holiday pressure, and the danger that accompanies it. In a report in 2019, as well as a follow-up in 2020, journalist Will Evans got his hands on internal safety reports and weekly injury numbers, publishing his findings with Reveal News.

“Just five months earlier, in June 2019, the monthly report from the Amazon safety director in charge of robotic warehouses across the country was frank about the risks,” writes Evans. He continues: “Warehouses in the region that encompasses New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Connecticut were ‘expecting an increase in injuries across all sites during Prime Week.’” Injuries had already increased in the lead-up to Prime Day, a trend Evans attributes to mandatory overtime and bringing in 1,200 to 2,000 seasonal employees to each robotic site in that region. Both the overtime and the influx of new workers were labeled “high-risk situations.”

Evans’s 2019 investigation looked at internal injury records from 2018 for 23 of the company’s then 110 US warehouses. He found the rate of serious injuries for the facilities whose records he had was more than double the national average for the warehousing industry: 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time workers, compared with an industry average that year of 4.

Those rates are uneven: one of the warehouses, in Eastvale, California, had a rate four times the national average. Of the records Evans obtained, most of the warehouses with the highest rates of injury deployed robots. While Jeff Wilke, one of Amazon’s top executives, has said that robots “make the job safer,” robots actually increase, rather than decrease, injury rates, according to David Michaels, former head of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

And these are the company’s own records. Amazon, like many companies, is prone to keeping injuries off the books so as to avoid scrutiny from OSHA or journalists like Evans, as well as to minimize workers’ comp claims. Indeed, investigators have found that AmCare, Amazon’s on-site clinics, often send injured workers back to work instead of referring them to another doctor for in-depth medical attention. Medical providers told Evans they were discouraged from giving Amazon workers treatment that would lead to their injuries being on the books.

While many of these are repetitive stress injuries or strains, the type of hazard that often accompanies warehousing work, there are other threats, too, borne of Amazon’s commitment to wringing as much productivity out of workers as humanly possible, regardless of circumstances. For instance, Evans writes of a gas leak in the Eastvale warehouse: managers wouldn’t slow the pace “even though [workers] were dizzy and vomiting,” workers told him. “They were told that they’d have to use personal time off if they wanted to leave.”

He documents a particularly horrifying incident in which fifty-five-year-old Phillip Lee Terry, a maintenance worker, was crushed to death by a forklift at an Indiana warehouse. Indiana OSHA sent an investigator, who found it was Amazon’s fault, and, at first, the agency issued four citations, a fine of $28,000. But then the state’s OSHA director called Amazon and explained to the company how it could shift the blame. There were political considerations: the state was hoping to be selected as the location for Amazon’s HQ2 site. So, a year after Terry’s death, the state deleted the citations.

These problems are only getting worse. While Amazon touts figures for how much money it spends on safety practices — the company is currently on a PR push about its new wellness program, which has been met with widespread ridicule online and indifference or disdain by every warehouse worker with whom I’ve spoken — Evans’s reporting found that injury rates are only going up. Robotized warehouses continue leading the pack, as robots mean a quicker pace of work, as well as more isolated, repetitive motions. Meanwhile, a recent report by the Strategic Organizing Center — published in time for Prime Day 2021 — finds that Amazon workers are not only injured more frequently than in non-Amazon warehouses, they also endure more serious injuries.

Amazon does advise workers on how to safely move their bodies and handle equipment, but workers characterize these instructions as a joke. It’s understood they must violate the rules to keep up with the rate, even if Amazon makes them sign paperwork saying they’ll follow the guidelines. Like truck drivers The reality of these working conditions is better suggested by Amazon telling workers to think of themselves as “industrial athletes” (the company claims the pamphlet that used this phrase was mistakenly distributed, though workers say it was available on-site for months, so that’s unlikely).

In the face of all this evidence of how ill-equipped the company is to ensure workers’ safety, and how uninterested Jeff Bezos is in providing workers with time to see a doctor or care for their children, Amazon Prime Day is once again upon us. Let’s hope it doesn’t kill anyone.

 

ATTACHMENT EIGHT - From Vice

 

AMAZON CALLS WAREHOUSE WORKERS ‘INDUSTRIAL ATHLETES’ IN LEAKED WELLNESS PAMPHLET

 

The leaked pamphlet asks workers to "monitor your urine color" and alter their lifestyle so they don't get injured on the job.

 

By Edward Ongweso Jr  June 1, 2021, 4:21pm

 

In a leaked Amazon pamphlet obtained by Motherboard, the company describes warehouse workers as “industrial athletes” and details how its Working Well program will help workers by laying out guidelines to “prepare their bodies” for walking “up to 13 miles a day” or lifting “a total of 20,000 pounds” during a shift.  

"Here at Amazon, you will become an industrial athlete. Just like an athlete who trains for an event, industrial athletes need to prepare their bodies to be able to perform their best at work," the pamphlet reads. "We want to make sure you feel your best while doing your best!" The pamphlets are from a Tulsa, Oklahoma, warehouse and date back to 2020, when the Working Well program was first piloted at various warehouses across the country. 

The pamphlet then lays out six sections of interest to help prepare workers for laboring in a warehouse: nutrition, hydration, sleep, footwear, ergonomic work behavior, and injury prevention specialists. To wrap it up, there's a section simply titled "How Can I Feel Better?" that offers helpful tips such as stretching and getting a massage. The pamphlet, and the Working Well program, are part of a suite of recent Amazon initiatives aimed at improving its image as a brutal employer and getting the most out of workers, many of whom may be working in a physically demanding role for the first time.

new report by the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of some of the country's largest labor unions, found that in 2020 Amazon workers were severely injured more than 24,000 times, twice the rate of the rest of the warehouse industry nationwide.

On the question of nutrition, the Amazon pamphlet urges its industrial athletes to eat well because they'll be burning about 400 calories every hour. "Fatigue is often a large factor in injuries," the pamphlet explains. It includes a bunch of nutrition tips as well, such as eating whole grains, having 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables, but also keeping sodium down and potassium up.

Officially, Amazon workers are allowed to take bathroom breaks, but many workers say they are often unable to take bathroom breaks because of the job’s breakneck pace and urinate in bottles or defecate in bags. Despite this, the pamphlet says to carry a water bottle all day, drink about two liters of water each day from it, and to "monitor your urine color." Workers are also advised to maintain a healthy sleep schedule as it's "extremely important for injury prevention, healing, and overall health.” 

Other recommended steps include tips such as buying shoes "at the end of the day when your feet are swollen to allow for plenty of room when they swell during work," or ensuring you are not using your back when exerting force during labor. The final step offers three injury prevention specialists who are athletic trainers that can provide tips to help with "body discomforts" that come with being an industrial athlete.

 

All of Amazon’s tips for avoiding injuries on the job also ignore the simplest fix: reducing the pace of work. Amazon is a particularly dangerous workplace precisely because it squeezes every worker for as much productivity as possible, at great risk of injury. This has resulted in an epidemic of muscle-related injuries that Amazon is now attempting to address, for example by deploying algorithms to coordinate which muscle groups are being exerted and creating “Zen Booths” for stressed out workers, even as managers “hire to fire” so they can hit certain turnover rate quotas.

Former Amazon worker Bobby Gosvenor, who worked in an Amazon warehouse in Tulsa, Oklahoma before receiving a serious injury on December 20 thanks to a malfunctioning conveyor belt, shared the pamphlet with Motherboard. At the time, he said in an interview, was told to ice what turned out to be a herniated disc and take some ibuprofen, but was expected to keep working for the next few weeks even as it became clear his injury was serious.

"I was being told to take my muscle relaxers at night, which was grueling during the day because the muscles were just spasming and I would have to breathe through them, sweat, get nauseated, it was just hurting so bad," Gosvenor told Motherboard. "But I pushed through, then on January 4, when peak season was over, I literally came into work that day, did my light duty job, went to the physician's appointment, went to the physical therapist, and came back thinking I was going to be back on light duty, and was told there's no work for me. I had clocked in that morning, clocked out to go to physical therapy, clocked back in and was being told there's no work for you."

Gosvenor had to have discs in his neck removed, fused with a plate secured with screws, and wore a collar securing his neck to limit movement. This process stretched months from January 4 to March 4, but was ultimately delayed and impeded even further by Amazon, he said.

“If Amazon needed the conveyor fixed within 24 hours or less, they would ship the parts overnight, put it in, and get going. For my situation, I had to go through two different surgeons to acknowledge that I did have a problem," Gosvenor said. "I got a call from Amazon's third party insurer saying Amazon requested a second opinion, extending things for another two months.”

“Amazon is so big that people getting hurt is really not a concern for them," Gosvenor added. "There was only one Amazon employee out of all the groups I had to deal with that said 'Hey Bobby, how are you feeling?' Not one of them picked up the phone, not a supervisor, not a manager, not a safety manager, not an AmCare manager, not a human resource manager. Nobody said, 'Hey let's pick up the phone and see how Bobby's doing after surgery.' It's very sterile."

In a statement to Motherboard, Amazon claimed that the pamphlet was created in error and that it was immediately removed. Gosvenor, however, told Motherboard that he first came across it in November 2020 and that he picked up a physical copy of the pamphlet at the Tulsa warehouse as recently as several weeks ago.

Update: This story was updated with comment from Amazon.

 

 

ATTACHMENT NINE From NBC news

 

FIRED, INTERROGATED, DISCIPLINED: AMAZON WAREHOUSE ORGANIZERS ALLEGE YEAR OF RETALIATION

 

The number of charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board accusing Amazon of interfering with workers’ right to organize more than tripled during the pandemic.

 

Jonathan Bailey filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board accusing Amazon of retaliating against him for protected activities.Victor J. Blue / for NBC News

March 30, 2021, 4:30 AM EDT

By Olivia Solon and April Glaser

The day after Jonathan Bailey organized a walkout over Covid-19 concerns at an Amazon warehouse in Queens, New York, he was, he said, “detained” during his lunch break by a manager in a black camouflage vest who introduced himself as ex-FBI.

Bailey, who co-founded Amazonians United, a network of Amazon workers fighting for better pay and working conditions, was ushered to a side office and interrogated for 90 minutes, according to testimony filed to the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB.

The manager asked exactly what Bailey had said or done to get his fellow workers to join the walkout. When Bailey declined to explain, the manager shifted his tone. He told Bailey that some people “felt hurt” by what he did and that it “might be seen as harassment,” Bailey said.

“It was already a pretty intense conversation. But it became very clear they were trying to intimidate me,” Bailey said. “Being accused of harassment is a very dangerous thing.”

A week later, Bailey received a formal write-up for harassment, although his managers would not tell him whom he had allegedly harassed, nor what he had allegedly said or done, according to his NLRB testimony.

MARCH 30, 202104:33

Bailey, who still works for Amazon, believes that was part of a corporate strategy to silence organizers, and in May 2020 he filed a charge against Amazon to the NLRB alleging that the company had violated labor law by retaliating against him for protected, concerted activities. The board found merit to the allegations and filed a federal complaint against Amazon.

This month, a year after Bailey staged the walkout, Amazon settled. Under the terms of the settlement, Amazon was required to post a notice to employees, on physical bulletin boards and via email, reminding them of their right to organize.

A handful of workers, including Jonathan Bailey, said allegations made against them by Amazon seem to play into racist stereotypes of Black men as angry or aggressive.

"Amazon will work to destroy your character and try to keep you from talking about what’s actually going on,” Bailey said. “And it’s all so that Jeff Bezos can make more dollars.”

Bailey’s complaint is one of at least 37 charges filed to the NLRB against Amazon, America’s second-largest employer, across 20 cities since February 2020, when news of the pandemic began to spread, according to an analysis of NLRB filings by NBC News. These complaints accuse the company of interfering with workers’ rights to organize or form a union. That’s more than triple the number of cases of this kind filed to the agency about Amazon in 2019 and six times the number filed in 2018.

For comparison, Walmart, America’s largest employer, has had eight such charges since February 2020. The meat-processing giant JBS, whose workers have been fighting for better working conditions throughout the pandemic, including staging protests, had nine.

The number of similar charges filed against Amazon over the last year has become significant enough that the NLRB is considering whether the “meritorious allegations warrant a consolidated effort between the regions,” NLRB spokesman Nelson Carrasco said. Typically NLRB charges are investigated by one of 26 regional offices. But in rare instances the board combines cases into a consolidated complaint, as it has done with Walmart and McDonald’s, if it believes there is a pattern emerging at a company.

Amazon declined to comment on the increase in NLRB charges.

Labor experts said that the surge in such charges reflects a dramatic increase in organizing among a small but vocal portion of Amazon’s 500,000 warehouse workers across North America during a coronavirus-led boom in online retail, leading to record sales and an almost 200 percent increase in profits for Amazon.

Workers have been coming together to demand better working conditions — including through solidarity campaigns, strikes, protests and walkouts — at warehouses across the United States, including in Chicago; New York; Minneapolis; Iowa City, Iowa; Sacramento and the Inland Empire of California; Salem, Oregon; and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

As worker activism gains momentum, so, too, has Amazon’s effort to counter it with anti-union propaganda, firing key organizers, surveilling employees and hiring Pinkertons to gather intelligence on warehouse workers.

NBC News interviewed more than two dozen Amazon warehouse workers, nine of whom said they had been fired, disciplined or retaliated against for protected activity and three of whom filed NLRB complaints since the pandemic began. They allege that Amazon has in some cases selectively enforced its policies on issues such as social distancing, vulgar language and insubordination to target those speaking up for worker rights. A handful of workers, including Bailey, said that allegations made against them by Amazon seemingly play into racist stereotypes of Black men being angry or aggressive.

“We have zero tolerance for racism or retaliation of any kind, and in many cases these complaints come from individuals who acted inappropriately toward co-workers and were terminated as a result,” said an Amazon spokeswoman, Leah Seay. “We work hard to make sure our teams feel supported, and will always stand by our decision to take action if someone makes their colleagues feel threatened or excluded.”

But labor historians note just how significant this fight is for the future of employees at one of the world’s fastest growing companies.

“There is a David versus Goliath aspect to this. Workers getting paid $15 per hour are going up against one of the world’s most powerful corporations owned by the world’s richest man,” said John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University. “Having a union would be a disaster for Amazon, so it’s pulling out all the stops to prevent workers from organizing.”

Selective enforcement

 

The highest-profile organizing campaign is in Bessemer, Alabama, where 5,800 workers are in the midst of a precedent-setting vote to form a union. There, Amazon is waging what labor experts like Logan describe as a classic and well-funded union-busting campaign. Workers described how Amazon required them to attend mandatory meetings to hear why the union was not, in Amazon’s view, beneficial for workers. The warehouse is filled with banners and signs encouraging workers to vote against the union and the company set up a website and hashtag, #DoItWithoutDues, to warn them about union fees.

“They are doing everything they can to try to convince the people to ‘Vote no,’" said Darryl Richardson, an Amazon employee in Bessemer who is organizing with the union drive. "There are signs right over the men's stall, so when you use the bathroom it’s right there face to face.”

Seay, the Amazon spokeswoman, said that it was important for employees to understand the facts of joining a union.

Amazon’s anti-union campaign states that union members would have to pay $500 a year in dues with no guarantee of better pay. Economic research indicates that collective bargaining unions generally raise pay for both union and nonunion members. “Amazon fears the union because of the leverage it can have to organize strikes that could cripple the business,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, a Los Angeles-based investment firm, noting that Amazon’s efficient customer service is critical to the company’s success.

If unions negotiate better pay and benefits, it would increase Amazon’s operating expenses and reduce profit, Pachter added.

Seay said Amazon hosts "regular information sessions for all employees, which include an opportunity for employees to ask questions."

"If the union vote passes," she added, "it will impact everyone at the site, and it’s important all associates understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon.”