Amazon issued 13,000 disciplinary notices at a single US warehouse

  • Note the foul language in paragraph 28

NEW YORK, July 12 (Reuters) – Amazon employee Gerald Bryson had been manually counting thousands of items in his warehouse inventory for three days when his manager showed him a “supporting feedback document”.

Bryson had made 22 mistakes, according to the 2018 article, including counting 19 products in a storage bin that actually had 20. If Bryson got it wrong six times in a year, the notice said he would be fired from Staten Island. warehouse, one of the largest of Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) in the United States.

Previously unpublished internal Amazon documents reveal how the company routinely measured workers’ performance in great detail and reprimanded those who fell even slightly below expectations – sometimes before the end of their shift. . In a single year ending April 2020, the company issued more than 13,000 so-called “disciplines” at Bryson’s warehouse alone, an Amazon attorney said in court documents. The facility had about 5,300 employees at that time.

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Records and interviews with current and former employees show the enormous pressure placed on Amazon line workers to complete tasks as accurately and quickly as the company requires — creating an environment that some workers say fueled organizing efforts across the country. In March, the Bryson workplace voted to become Amazon’s first organized warehouse in the United States, and staff at more than 100 other facilities nationwide are working to do the same, according to the Amazon Labor Union, an independent labor group formed in April 2021.

Amazon, the largest online retailer in the United States, released the documents in response to a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint about Bryson’s firing in April 2020. Many of these documents were also included in a lawsuit in separate and ongoing justice in federal court. in which the NLRB sought to end what it called Amazon’s “gross unfair labor practices” — actions the company has denied in court documents.

In a statement, Amazon said the goals it sets are “fair and based on what the majority of the team actually accomplishes.” The company says it gives workers more praise than criticism. “We give lots of feedback to employees throughout the year to help them succeed and make sure they understand expectations,” Amazon said.

Kathy Drew King, regional director of the NLRB’s Brooklyn office, said the board “vigorously pursued” Amazon’s labor law compliance.

Last April, an administrative judge ordered Bryson’s reinstatement after finding the retailer unlawfully fired him for protesting workplace safety conditions. Amazon is appealing the judge’s decision, saying in a statement that the company fired Bryson for defaming a co-worker during a protest in the warehouse parking lot. Bryson said the employee verbally assaulted him.

Bryson, now a union organizer, added that he was unsure whether to return. “If I go back through these doors, it will show the workers that they can fight,” he said.

OFF TASK FOR SIX MINUTES

Amazon told the judge in the Bryson case that it could not meet the demands of the NLRB in a subpoena to provide the thousands of disciplinary notices it gave to employees that year, calling the requirement ” unduly heavy”.

However, he provided statistics for what he called “disciplines” — which include firings, suspensions and warnings — at three warehouses, and he turned over dozens of personnel files. These included over 600 worker reviews between 2015 and 2021 that were positive, negative or neutral. It’s unclear from the records if the reviews were a representative sample of company feedback. The files also contained worker affidavits and email exchanges between Amazon and government attorneys.

Among the documented violations for which Amazon has blamed employees:

* Being absent from work for six minutes in June 2018, resulting in a reprimand a warehouse worker in Carteret, New Jersey, received at 2:57 a.m. during the same shift.

* Achieve 94% of company productivity goal instead of 100%. For weeks, a worker at the same New Jersey warehouse had exceeded expectations. But Amazon management warned him in October 2017 of possible termination if he did not improve his rate of scanning and verifying items, which fell to 164 per hour, below the target of around 175.

* Exceeding the four-minute break time. Although Amazon offers a ‘5 minute grace’ period for breaks, the same New Jersey worker, who was lacking in productivity, also received a note in March 2017 telling him not to go over the time limit. .

* Making four mistakes when entering items ordered by shoppers during a single week in the spring of 2019, in which a New York warehouse worker correctly selected over 15,800 goods for customers.

In its statement, Amazon said these articles do not accurately reflect its current policies. In a June 2021 blog post, the company said it had started averaging workers’ “absent tasks” – periods of inactivity – over a longer period of time before engaging with the employees. He did not say how the period was extended. Amazon acknowledged that some managers wrongly used discipline rather than “coaching” workers.

According to Amazon’s statement to Reuters, less than 25% of feedback relates to what it calls “opportunities for improvement,” and the majority relate to attendance, such as when an employee may overstay time off. allocated.

Without a full record of the company’s reviews, Reuters was unable to verify these figures.

However, the raw number of “disciplines” cited by Amazon itself in court documents suggested they were prolific. Managing a warehouse in Robbinsville, New Jersey, with an average of about 4,200 workers in December 2020, gave employees more than 15,000 disciplines in the year to April 2020, the attorney wrote. ‘Amazon. A North Haven, Connecticut warehouse with an average of 4,800 workers in December 2020 issued more than 5,000 such notices in the year ending April 2020. Some employees received numerous disciplinary notices.

WALK LIKE IT’S ‘1,000 YEARS OLD’

A pile of critical reviews dogged Bryson despite what he described as his best efforts to meet Amazon’s standards. He joined the Staten Island warehouse shortly after it opened in 2018, with a starting salary of $16.50 an hour. His job was to count bin after bin of screws, bolts and other inventory using a gun-like scanner.

After initially being warned in writing of the errors, Bryson said he slowed down to get the count right. On December 6 that year, he was accused of counting 295 goods per hour, when the company expected 478. He told Reuters he tried to go twice as fast to catch up a slow day and had fretted at his kitchen table to find out if his performance had been enough.

“You’re sitting there worried about whether you’re going to get a job tomorrow because your rate isn’t where it’s supposed to be,” Bryson, now 59, recalled. “It was horrible.”

He received two more items that month even as he accelerated to an hourly rate of 371, Amazon documents show. Bryson said he kept “count and move and count and move” and was again slapped with notes of errors. In the end, it crawled through nearly 8,000 articles over four days in January 2019 — fast and accurate enough to land praise from Amazon.

“Your recent work performance has met or exceeded productivity expectations,” he was informed.

But her feet swelled and her body ached, Bryson said, adding that just walking from her car after work to her apartment made her feel “1,000 years old”.

In recent years, workers have flocked to the retail giant for wages generally higher than those of its biggest rivals. Last September, to hire in a tight labor market, Amazon said it raised its average starting wage for US operations staff to more than $18 an hour, about 10% above the average wage. then offered by Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer.

But the work had an emotional impact, at least two employees said in court records. Rossshawn Heslop, an employee at Ships Dock in North Haven, said stress drove him into a rage in November 2019 after a manager confronted him for quitting his job. “I’m doing my fucking job,” Heslop said, according to a human resources summary of the incident. According to HR records, the manager was skeptical of Heslop’s explanation that he went to get a tool.

According to HR records, Heslop said he’s generally “a quiet guy” who’s “here to work” and occasionally walks around due to a medical condition. The manager sent three emails to HR encouraging the company to discipline Heslop for vulgar language, which the company eventually did. He was placed on probation, with the possibility of dismissal if he was not up to it.

Amazon said items like this are rare, but “it’s important to treat each other with respect, and we don’t tolerate inappropriate behavior at any level.”

Heslop, 28, who still works for Amazon, says the company itself doesn’t respect workers like him.

“It doesn’t matter how hard I work or how well I work,” he said. “It’s a game you can’t win.”

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Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York; additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; edited by Anna Driver and Julie Marquis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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