The New York Times recently published Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace, looking into the internet retailer’s exploitation of its white collar workforce. Some of it is definitely awful:
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 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.
Much of what the article details is a thoroughly anti-female culture. But what really makes me mad is that it’s taken the mistreatment of office workers to get the internet riled up about Amazon, when the awful conditions of warehouse workers have long been established, as Vox’s explainer points out:
The real workplace scandal at Amazon — and in the economy writ large — isn’t the treatment of white-collar workers with plenty of options. It’s the treatment of blue-collar workers with none.
The truth is that Amazon’s white-collar workers can always leave. A stint at Amazon looks great on your résumé. And there are other jobs with easier hours, friendlier cultures, and gentler ambitions. But warehouse workers in rural America have few choices. If they don’t like what Amazon and it subcontractors are offering, they can go on unemployment, or they can work in another terrible warehouse, or they can see what happens if they don’t pay their rent.
Apparently one warehouse’s method of coping with a heat wave was to keep paramedics on site ready to handle workers passing out from heat exhaustion. They wouldn’t open any doors because of fears of theft. Horrible, but probably only a little worse than other jobs that folks who find themselves working there would otherwise find.