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Cogs In The Machine

Updated on September 29, 2011


Interchangable Parts. . .

The recent stories of the employees at an Amazon fulfillment center in Pennsylvania being forced to work at an unsafe pace despite oppressive heat sounds like something from the days of the sweatshops. But I can say that the conditions that these workers faced are all too real.

From 2002 until 2007 and from 2008 to 2011, I worked full and part-time at a FedEx Ground facility in Lewisberry, PA. Now I never did see ambulances parked at the doors of the facility, and when the weather did get too warm, we were provided with Gatorade and had ice chests available to keep our drinks cool. But even in the hottest and most humid weather, we were expected to manintain standards of productivity that were likley unrealistic for the conditions and personnel we had.

While FedEx Ground never used temps, turnover was extremely high. I saw many people work there for mere weeks before either being fired or simply leaving, likely out of frustration with the inconsistent hours. It might actually make good business sense to have high turnover; once an employee becomes eligible for vacation, they are now being paid, but not contributing to the all-important throughput, paid holidays mean the same thing.

I will say I could see the job having appeal for one group of people, and I'm sure there were a few who worked at the hub. FedEx Ground was one of the few companies that did pay a decent wage that did not, at the time I was there, conduct any sort of pre-employment drug testing. Tests were required if there was an injury, but that may have merely been an incentive for employees not to report injuries. I'm sure that word got around the 'stoner' community that FedEx was a good place to make the money needed to feed their habit.

Too many people there simply had to 'grin and bear it'. A lot of them likely couldn't get hired anywhere except a warehouse or distribution center. Also, especially in an economy like this current one, people can easily get 'stuck', not using the skills that may have acquired through college, etc. You could advance, but you had to be able to adopt the mentality that the packages were more important than the people who worked there. How else do you explain why someone with a Bachelor's Degree, solid attendance record, and strong work ethic, couldn't advance?

My termination in January 2011 may have come at a good time. I had in the back of my mind thought of doing the one thing that may have sent a message to the managers and executives. I was going to get in touch with the Teamsters.


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    • TeaPartyCrasher profile image

      TeaPartyCrasher 5 years ago from Camp Hill, PA

      This is a far cry from the Hub I worked at near Harrisburg, PA. Where it seems advancement was based on being able to accept that the package was more important than the people that worked there.

      Consider yourself lucky.

    • profile image

      Orion-71 5 years ago

      I won't say because I'm still working there.

      This city generally has really nice people, which is a contrast from California where I used to live. I would say it's the people that often define the workplace. It's nice to work in a place where the manager and everyone can joke around, but still get things done right and in a timely manner. Without having to resort to fear tactics to get results.

    • TeaPartyCrasher profile image

      TeaPartyCrasher 5 years ago from Camp Hill, PA

      May I ask what hub you work(ed) at?

    • profile image

      Orion-71 5 years ago

      I've worked at FedEx Ground part time for nearly 6 years. I agree with most of what you've said. Except in the Hubs I've worked in, they do appreciate hard workers. They WANT to KEEP them. Because there is a high turnover rate. It's more efficient to have someone work there that knows their position and does a great job, than to keep training people that have to learn the position and then don't do as good a job. If anything, FedEx Ground offers great JOB SECURITY. And with the benefits now to part time package handlers (2012), you get paid vacation, holidays, health insurance.

      I agree with the drug user assumption, and it seems to be the consensus with the employees that "some" are.

      But there's another category of people that choose jobs like this, that most people don't realize. Introverts, like myself. Introverts make up a small minority of our population. I'm self reflective and process things internally, so I find most people to be draining emotionally and psychologically. Frequent social interaction in the workplace becomes very stressful. Unfortunately nearly all jobs require it, especially careers that require a college degree.

      American Romance reminds me of a guy at my FedEx Ground hub that has the same attitude. He likes to think that he's better than everyone else around him. He works very hard, but he doesn't stop to help anyone, or learn more than his position. He then gets upset that other people slow him down- rather than help them; teamwork.

      Anyone can be conditioned to work in extreme conditions, as a matter of survival. They don't complain because they can't. For example illegal immigrants working in America. I've seen them do 18 hour shifts, 7 days a week, manual labor. And be HAPPY about it because they're in America, eating better food, having a cleaner living space, better people, etc.

      Hell, most hospital staff work 24-48 hour shifts. That to me is unthinkable.

      In America we're always striving to find balance between work and life, and trying to live life to the fullest. We're not content to do whatever it takes to survive, we need more out of life than that.

    • kelbethc profile image

      kelbethc 5 years ago from Rural Indiana

      I was the plant nurse at a factory in Indiana where the heat in the summer would have people passing out at their stations, heat stroke was common. It was HOTTER inside than out, because of the machinery,humidity, etc...Part of the problem with why things don't change is that enough people are willing (see above) to take whatever conditions thrown at them and call those who would question the conditions "sissies". We treat animals better, if dogs were getting heat stroke at the humane society and dying, people would be going to jail. If you lock a child in a car for a few minutes on a hot day you go to jail, but if you promote those kinds of working conditions for hours on end - hey you are a job creator. Plus, hey if you're the brass - your part of the facility is air conditioned.

    • brages07 profile image

      brages07 5 years ago from South Royalton, VT

      Hey American Romance, you know what makes me sick? Grown men that have nothing better to do than talk trash on the Internet. You're a really big man, by the way, talking trash on the Internet. I can't believe I'm saying this to someone apparently old enough to be my dad, but grow up.

    • American Romance profile image

      American Romance 5 years ago from America

      hahaha bunch of whimps! Come on down to my part of the country where men stand in the blazing sun running pipe for hours on end at a pace too fast to stop for a drink of water! You libs make me sick with your sissy ways! You mean to tell me these people could drink ice water, and stay indoors without sunburn and can't stand it any longer? We have 440 pulling units, 12 drilling rigs, over 1000 fluid trucks and a total of 5000 employees working in the weather all day!............not a one complains!

    • BusinessTime profile image

      Sarah Kolb-Williams 5 years ago from Twin Cities

      This is fascinating -- it's the first I've heard of these kind of practices at Amazon, and I'm intrigued enough to do some research. Not a traffic fan, I do most of my shopping on Amazon -- I might have to rethink that practice.

      Thanks for the sobering insight.

    • brages07 profile image

      brages07 5 years ago from South Royalton, VT

      Great hub, TPC. I have done manual labor under some brutal conditions as well, so I know exactly what you are talking about.