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Feb 23 2014

Amazon’s inhumanity

Is it really worth it to order from Amazon? Read this exposé of Amazon’s labor practices — they are ruthless, demeaning, and evil.

At the Allentown warehouse, Stephen Dallal, also a “picker,” found that his output targets increased the longer he worked at the warehouse, doubling after six months. “It started with 75 pieces an hour, then 100 pieces an hour. Then 150 pieces an hour. They just got faster and faster.” He too was written up for not meeting his targets and was fired.27 At the Seattle warehouse where the writer Vanessa Veselka worked as an underground union organizer, an American Stakhnovism pervaded the depot. When she was on the line as a packer and her output slipped, the “lead” was on to her with “I need more from you today. We’re trying to hit 14,000 over these next few hours.”

Beyond this poisonous mixture of Taylorism and Stakhnovism, laced with twenty-first-century IT, there is, in Amazon’s treatment of its employees, a pervasive culture of meanness and mistrust that sits ill with its moralizing about care and trust—for customers, but not for the employees. So, for example, the company forces its employees to go through scanning checkpoints when both entering and leaving the depots, to guard against theft, and sets up checkpoints within the depot, which employees must stand in line to clear before entering the cafeteria, leading to what Amazon’s German employees call Pausenklau (break theft), shrinking the employee’s lunch break from thirty to twenty minutes, when they barely have time to eat their meal.

That’s just a small sample. If you work for Amazon, you’re a modern serf, relentlessly monitored and given increasingly unreachable goals.

Jeff Bezos has a net worth of 27 billion dollars. Do you think he works even a tenth as hard as the wage slaves he’s got working in his “fulfillment centers”?

One thing this story makes clear, at least, that a key element in the process of achieving some kind of equality is a vital labor movement.

130 comments

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  1. 1
    hyphenman

    Good morning P.Z.

    I stopped buying from Amazon years ago for just these reasons.

    Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland went under cover at an unnamed Internet warehouse and lasted three days before she quit.

    When we buy from Amazon we are, as I see the situation, taking part in a real-life Milgram experiment.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  2. 2
    raven

    Oh.

    You’ve convinced me.

    1. I order from Amazon occasionally, mostly books. I’ve noticed in the last year or two that they have been raising their prices. It’s no longer that much cheaper than retail RL.

    2. Alternatives? The internet is a big place. I wouldn’t mind going elsewhere.

  3. 3
    PZ Myers

    This is going to set me back a bit. One of the evil indirect things that Amazon has done is to gut small businesses in rural America. There is no real bookstore here — why should there be, just order it from Amazon. There are a lot of little things that I have the choice of driving 50 or 100 miles to pick up, or just call Amazon.

    I’d be willing to pay more for their services if they had humane labor practices — but they seem to be more focussed on gouging labor to make their executives richer.

  4. 4
    Sili

    2. Alternatives? The internet is a big place. I wouldn’t mind going elsewhere.

    Ditto.

    I’m afraid I’m rather addicted to the easiness of it all.

  5. 5
    hyphenman

    Oops… The link for Mac McClelland is:

    havecoffeewillwrite.com/?p=30276

    Cut and paste can be so annoying sometimes….

  6. 6
    Georgia Sam

    “One thing this story makes clear, at least, that a key element in the process of achieving some kind of equality is a vital labor movement.”

    Yes! Spot on! Yet I continue to see media coverage of these issues that feature only executives and managers as “expert” commentators. Never a representative of organized labor to be seen anywhere.

  7. 7
    michaelvieths

    They occasionally try to recruit me via LinkedIn. While Seattle sounds appealing, Amazon itself really does not. If this is how they treat hourly employees, I can’t imagine they’d have much respect for the spare time of a salaried employee.

  8. 8
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    The thing is, Amazon isn’t actually a terrible lot worse than other warehouse jobs, and this

    you’re a modern serf, relentlessly monitored and given increasingly unreachable goals.

    is corporate America in a nutshell, and describes 90% of the jobs I’ve held in my lifetime.

  9. 9
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Another piece on the topic, from last year:
    My week as an Amazon insider
    Worth a read.

  10. 10
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Oh, since I see Dalillama mentioning corporate America – my link is from the Guardian. The journalist was working in a warehouse in UK. Same shit there.

  11. 11
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    “It started with 75 pieces an hour, then 100 pieces an hour. Then 150 pieces an hour. They just got faster and faster.”

    I’ve worked production lines, packing lines and the like where this kind of thing happened, though not to quite that extreme. Not only is it bloody cruel, but after a certain point, it’s counter-productive. Mistakes are made, many of which go “unnoticed” as the poor slob responsible for quality-control turns a blind-eye, in an effort to keep up with their own increased work-load.

  12. 12
    shardman

    Does anyone know any good alternative online bookstores to Amazon in the UK? I used to use the Book Depository until then they got taken over by Amazon. It seems like Amazon have so successfully dominated the online market and bought out their competition that there’s no where else to go. That’s really quite depressing.

  13. 13
    Brony

    The idea of making sure that employees improve and meet certain minimal goals is fine in a neutral sense. The problem is that there is often no realistic end-point to it so there is a tendency for more and more pressure to be put on until you get to this point where the only way to do farther is to get a drummer and some whips. There seems to be no sense sensor in many businesses for placing goals in a way that does not create suffering.

    All that is in a dichotomy with a culture on the top that layers on benefit and reward after benefit and reward, often with no realistic tie between them and actual output by the folks in charge of the businesses. The human tendency to make things as hard as possible for the folks on the bottom, and as easy as possible for the folks on the top is just depressing.

  14. 14
    Charly

    This is actually true not only of Amazon, but of other American corporations I have the misfortune to be even vaguely familiar with. For example my employer is an american corporation. Our CEO increases his wage (which he gets in addition to his profits from shares) almost constantly. His yearly wage is such, that he could afford to give each of company’s employees around the world a 1.000,-$. yearly bonus and still get monthly income of 0,5 to 1 million $, yet the official claim of our top management is “employees cannot get any bonuses due to -insert any ol’ excuse-”. This barefaced lie is repeated even in the face of fact, that our company went rather well through and after the 2009 crisis and continues to do well overall.

    I am lucky to work for this corporation in Germany, where the corporation cannot completely disregard the unions and work laws no matter how much they try, but what our top management tries to do here is a very good indicator of how amoral they behave when they are not kept in check (at least partially) by unions and the rule of law.

    That being said, I am lucky not to need to buy anything from amazon. There are better internet shops around here and books that are available only on amazon are so expensive, that I am better off without them anyway. And after reading this, I am even mor happy to continue so.

  15. 15
    microraptor

    My first job was at a book distribution warehouse. Amazon was around then but not nearly the market force it is today.

    And let me tell you, that was exactly the way we were treated back then. Don’t think that buying from any other bookseller is really better, because there just aren’t that many book distributors in the US.

  16. 16
    sueinnm

    Does anyone know if B&N online has better labor practices? I’ve been using Amazon for years in spite of many misgivings–as a novelist, I really hated it when they began to offer used books alongside new, since of course I make no royalties off used …. these days, there’s no escaping the practice–I am ready to stop now if I can rest assured it’s better elsewhere. Our local bookstores are nearly gone except a couple of B&Ns, and they have very little backlist. If I see a third book in a series among the new books and go to look for the earlier books, nada. So then I’m stuck with online, or perhaps ordering directly from the store.

  17. 17
    hyphenman

    @No. 12 shardman…

    When I can’t find a book locally, I go to Powells

  18. 18
    urbanwitch

    Shardman @12

    I buy from The Book People, but they offer a rather limited choice. However Waterstones sells online. I pass a Waterstones daily, so I haven’t used the online service, but their emails keep encouraging me to do so.

  19. 19
    microraptor

    The idea of making sure that employees improve and meet certain minimal goals is fine in a neutral sense. The problem is that there is often no realistic end-point to it so there is a tendency for more and more pressure to be put on until you get to this point where the only way to do farther is to get a drummer and some whips. There seems to be no sense sensor in many businesses for placing goals in a way that does not create suffering.

    That’s because it’s not actually about improving employee performance. It’s about keeping turnover high: corporations set these unreachable goals to encourage employees to quit after a certain amount of time in order to avoid having to give out raises or other benefits.

  20. 20
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    I used to use the Book Depository until then they got taken over by Amazon.

    They’ve taken over ABE as well, Shardman, but it’s worth looking for books on ABE and then tracing the bookseller on Google and ordering directly. Other possibilities are Waterstones, Foyles and Blackwells. Some books can be ordered directly from the publisher- OUP have regular internet sales. How their own working practises stand up to examination I don’t know.

  21. 21
    felicis

    I had stopped using Amazon years ago due to how they treated my wife and I as customers – now the only time I ever use them is when using a gift card someone has sent me. I had no idea about their labor practices, but given their business practices, I cannot say that I’m surprised. Time to ask people to stop with the gift cards even.

  22. 22
    Marcus Ranum

    Does anyone know any good alternative online bookstores to Amazon in the UK?

    Buy your books used and avoid the ones that say “fulfillment by amazon” — a lot of book stores sell online through amazon and you still get all the convenience.

    It means someone at the bookstore is boxing your loot up and mailing it to you, and it may take a couple days longer than the factory full of robotized humans, but … plan ahead!

  23. 23
    Marcus Ranum

    Addendum – I also buy a lot of books on Ebay.

  24. 24
    anabasis
  25. 25
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    hyphenman #17
    Powell’s is actually a perfect example of PZ’s last sentence there. The employees are treated better than Amazon, but Michael Powell isn’t, AFAICT, any better a person than Jeff Bezos. The difference is that Powell’s is union, and not two years goes by but there’s a labor dispute when Powell tries to give them the shaft again.

  26. 26
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    anabasis

    Fuck. Off. Your are like unto the stench of a large and steaming puddle of horse-diarrhoea.

  27. 27
    shardman

    @ No 17 Hyphenman and No 18 Urbanwitch, thanks for your suggestions, I’ll take a look. Though I think Powell’s is only available in the US?

    @ No 20, I didn’t realise ABE had been taken over by Amazon too, that’s such a shame, I’ve used them before to find old/out of print books and found them really useful.

    @ No 22 Marcus Ranum, I use Amazon marketplace quite a lot since it is often cheaper than the normal price but I assume Amazon still get a cut even if it’s actually sold by someone else? Ebay could be the way forward…

  28. 28
    nomennescio

    And yet people still want to work for Amazon.

  29. 29
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Yeah, you’ll find apologists like anabasis everywhere; usually they get shunted to management pretty fast, where they get training in polishing their scripts. I got an almost duplicate of that post in person from a manager at my last job but one. Smarmy git was going on about my having failed to meet some of the absurd metrics, and I pointed out that no one was hitting all the metrics. He replied that 10% of the crew were hitting all but one, and then gave that speech above. Nevermind that ‘all but one’ is not the same as ‘all’, but if only 10% of the workforce can even come close, the problem isn’t the fucking workers.

  30. 30
    SallyStrange

    Well this sucks. I was about to place an order for a couple of gifts for my niece and my new sister-in-law.

  31. 31
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    nonmennescio,

    Do you also wonder why people work in sweatshops if they are really that bad?

  32. 32
    shockna

    And yet people still want to work for Amazon.

    Why yes, people still actually need jobs (note that people who want to work for Amazon specifically are programmers, which is a much more comfortable job). This proves….. What?

  33. 33
    Lynna, OM

    Perhaps the biggest scandal in Amazon’s recent history took place at its Allentown, Pennsylvania, center during the summer of 2011. The scandal was the subject of a prizewinning series in the Allentown newspaper, the Morning Call, by its reporter Spencer Soper. The series revealed the lengths Amazon was prepared to go to keep costs down and output high and yielded a singular image of Amazon’s ruthlessness—ambulances stationed on hot days at the Amazon center to take employees suffering from heat stroke to the hospital. Despite the summer weather, there was no air-conditioning in the depot, and Amazon refused to let fresh air circulate by opening loading doors at either end of the depot—for fear of theft. Inside the plant there was no slackening of the pace, even as temperatures rose to more than 100 degrees.

    On June 2, 2011, a warehouse employee contacted the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration to report that the heat index had reached 102 degrees in the warehouse and that fifteen workers had collapsed. On June 10 OSHA received a message on its complaints hotline from an emergency room doctor at the Lehigh Valley Hospital: “I’d like to report an unsafe environment with an Amazon facility in Fogelsville. . . . Several patients have come in the last couple of days with heat related injuries.”

    On July 25, with temperatures in the depot reaching 110 degrees, a security guard reported to OSHA that Amazon was refusing to open garage doors to help air circulate and that he had seen two pregnant women taken to a nursing station. Calls to the local ambulance service became so frequent that for five hot days in June and July, ambulances and paramedics were stationed all day at the depot. Commenting on these developments, Vickie Mortimer, general manager of the warehouse, insisted that “the safety and welfare of our employees is our number-one priority at Amazon, and as general manager I take that responsibility seriously.”

    Yeah, sounds like fun and good exercise. Sheesh.

    It was mentioned up-thread that Amazon workers in Germany have it marginally better thanks to labor unions and government oversight. Amazon in the USA is rabidly anti-union. One can see why. They want to continue to treat their workers like slaves.

  34. 34
    hyphenman

    @No. 25 Dalillama, Schmott Guy …

    True, few companies are perfect, but if I must order through the Internet, Powell’s is the best alternative.

    But, like I said, they are my last resort. I buy 99.9 percent of my books from a local, independent bookseller: Mac’s Backs

  35. 35
    Al Dente

    Amazon is not doing anything new. Anyone with experience working for Walmart will recognize the same corporate attitude towards the peons.

  36. 36
    Gregory in Seattle

    Fortunately, Seattle is one of the more literary minded cities in the US, and we still have some decent independent book sellers. One of the largest, The Elliott Bay Book Company, is only a few blocks from where I live.

    I’ll visit Amazon’s websites to learn about a book and read reviews, but I won’t buy from them: they are a huge reason why so many independents have been forced out of business.

  37. 37
    Anne D

    That is just horrible.

    I do try B&N first, and I’ll order from them even if it’s a bit more expensive than Amazon, but it sounds like they aren’t any better.

    As far as real bookstores go, the closest is a B&N a good half-hour away when the traffic is light and they aren’t digging up the streets. I’m not currently up to driving even that far. Yes, in north Orange County, California, we are devoid of actual bookshops. I’ll do the best I can, but I am not going to guilt myself to death either.

  38. 38
    stillacrazycanuck

    @26

    You may be correct in your description, but I see nothing in your response that suggests that you have any factual information to contradict the post that so offends you. While I find myself in agreement with the great majority of the points advanced by PZ, and enjoy the great majority of the comments, many of which provide me with useful information and insight, there tends to be a bit of an echo-chamber effect here where anyone who offers an opinion at odds with the prevailing thread is abused. If and when that person is demonstrably trolling, I enjoy reading the abuse as much as anyone.

    And I am NOT an apologist for Ebay: if the earlier posts are indeed a fair representation of the corporate attitude, and anabasis is simply a shrill for the employer, distorting the facts, then your post would be appropriate. What bothers me is the assumption that anyone who posts factual assertions contrary to the perceived, revealed wisdom MUST be lying. Isn’t that exactly the attitude we, to the extent we are a community, pride ourselves on opposing? As a stranger to ebay corporate practices, it is tempting to simply accept that ebay is a horrible employer…it makes me feel warm and fuzzy and full of moral outrage….but that shouldn’t be a reason to decide, with no other evidence than what has been posted here, what the objective reality is, and to use vitriolic language on someone who claims to have personal knowledge, knowledge I assume you lack, just because you’d rather believe him or her to be lying rather than accept the possibility that that poster is telling the truth as best as he or she knows it.

  39. 39
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    stillacrazycanuck,

    1. we’re talking about amazon
    2. anabasis is spewing over another thread simultaneously, and they appear to be trolling
    3. evidence is in the several articles linked by PZ and others
    4. nice horse you got there, he’s really tall

  40. 40
    left0ver1under

    From now on, let’s call it AmazConn. The working conditions sound the same.

    It makes me glad I’ve never bought anything from the company, and this story gives me another reason not to. I didn’t buy primarily because AmazConn refuses to offer any overseas shipping method except the FedUps twins; postal mail is not allowed. Prices start at US$100 to ship a 1kg package, US$150 for about 3-5kg, and even more outrageous prices for heavier items. Unless I was buying a Rolex or something, it’s a ripoff…then again, if I was buying a Rolex, I would be the same sort of slime as Jeff Bozo, not worried in the slightest about other human beings.

  41. 41
    microraptor

    Despite the summer weather, there was no air-conditioning in the depot, and Amazon refused to let fresh air circulate by opening loading doors at either end of the depot—for fear of theft. Inside the plant there was no slackening of the pace, even as temperatures rose to more than 100 degrees.

    Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of shit that happened on a regular basis at the warehouse I worked in. Fortunately, where I lived wasn’t as hot (and no where close to being as humid) as Pennsylvania typically gets but it was still hitting the 90s in the warehouse interior and there was no AC and next to no air circulation. And you weren’t allowed to carry a water bottle or anything, either.

    On the job injuries were common- hell, I’ve still got scars on my hands. The first aid station wasn’t even stocked: I had to start carrying around my own antiseptic and bandaids in case something happened.

  42. 42
    cry4turtles

    My book pays me more when it’s purchased directly from my publisher, especially the ebook. Perhaps readers could research the publishers to see if a direct buy Is available. Your favorite writers will appreciate it!

  43. 43
    gworroll

    The security seems a tad excessive.

    There’s nothing even approaching that where I work. And I often have entirely unsupervised access to items costing hundreds of dollars(or even thousands) that would fit comfortably in a pocket. Yet we don’t have a massive internal theft problem. Even another location I worked at that had a higher theft risk just had a bag check as we left.

    Maybe if Amazon spent some money on the hiring process, they wouldn’t need all that insanity. Hire the right people and you don’t have to worry nearly so much about theft. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up saving more on security than they spend on HR budgets.

  44. 44
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    stillacrazycanuck #26

    If and when that person is demonstrably trolling, I enjoy reading the abuse as much as anyone.

    Anabasis is indeed a known troll.

    You may be correct in your description, but I see nothing in your response that suggests that you have any factual information to contradict the post that so offends you.

    Apart from life-long experience of the type of work in question? To pick two points:

    1: Anabasis’s claim that “Productivity expectations do not double,” is directly contradicted by the first-hand wittness interviewed in the Salon piece.

    2: If falling into the “the bottom 10% of the work-group,” even consistently, is enough to get a worker into trouble, then someone has set their sights way too high, or HR are not being stringent enough when taking on employees. Think about it: that’s a full tenth of the work-force, at any one time, in fear of disciplinary action or of being fired. This is not, contra Anabasis’s claim, “fun.”

    and to use vitriolic language on someone who claims to have personal knowledge, knowledge I assume you lack, just because you’d rather believe him or her to be lying rather than accept the possibility that that poster is telling the truth as best as he or she knows it.

    Anabasis’s claims to personal knowledge so far have been rather less than reliable.

  45. 45
    Marc Abian

    I know nothing but I did some simple searching in response to this.

    From here you can get a link to a few sites which are alternatives to Amazon in certain product areas
    http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/boycotts/boycottamazon/amazonshoppingalternatives.aspx

    For books for the lazy sods who don;t want to click through from there

    ^UK only* Charity book shop, all books £3.75 with free delivery =greenmetropolis.com

    Free delivery worldwide, ok selection and prices =betterworldbooks.co.uk/

    Good selection and prices too, but without buying anything I don’t know if it restricted to the UK, where it does have free delivery =boosetc.co.uk

  46. 46
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    Umm. My comment was #26. stillacrazycanuck’s was #38.

  47. 47
    Marc Abian

    That last site is booksetc.co.uk (as in books etc.) not boosetc

  48. 48
    robro

    On the one hand, I’m not surprised at all. My experience working in a fulfillment warehouse in the mid-60s was essentially the same whether I was working the line or loading trucks. On the other, I’m surprised that they are practicing Taylorism. I had the impression that Taylorism had fallen into disregard by production engineers and new methodologies were all the rage, particularly Toyota’s “lean” approach.

  49. 49
    Alverant

    Sadly I don’t have a whole lot of choice. My credit card gives me Amazon points. (Seems like very card gives you points somewhere and Amazon is the most practical for me.) As a customer they’ve been good to me overall, not perfect, but good. I’d rather go with smaller companies but that’s yet another set of usernames/passwords I need to remember and another place that has my credit card information. I don’t think I can really switch to an alternative. The best I can do is to buy less stuff period.

  50. 50
    Rey Fox

    Productivity expectations do not double, they increase from around 70% to 100% over a period of a month to account for a learning curve.

    Maybe my math is off today, but how exactly is a 100% increase not a doubling?

  51. 51
    pikaia

    I search for new and used books on http://www.bookfinder.com/

  52. 52
    stillacrazycanuck

    @39

    Valid points, all of them, and as I stumble onto my stepladder, needed to mount and dismount from my horse, I shall reflect upon them, especially my confusion of ebay and amazon (I make that mistake in real life as well for some reason).

    Before dismounting, however, there is an important difference between belief and knowledge: indeed one might say that an appreciation of that difference is a fundamental dividing line between theists and atheists. When we, as outsiders to the experience at Amazon, have been provided a view of that experience, selected to make a point, and then we encounter someone else, who claims to have personal experience that differs from the description afforded in the OP, simply dismissing the latecomer with invective is hardly persuasive if the objective is to attempt to persuade an outsider as to which version of reality is objectively correct…if indeed it can be said that a single version can be correct in this situation.

    I don’t ‘know’ whether the practices described in the OP or the linked sources accurately reflect the reality throughout the business, and the latter contradiction was mere trolling and that wasn’t what prompted my post.

    My point, which I will shortly cease trying to make, is that for a community that seems to pride itself on being evidence and fact based, to greet evidence that contradicts our beliefs with nothing but abuse is, it seems to me, contradictory. Your response to me, otoh, altho containing a personal criticism, based that criticism on valid arguments, so I enjoyed it and also, I hope, learned a little from it. I will try to find a shorter horse in the future

  53. 53
    The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge

    @stillacrazycanuck:

    I understand what you’re trying to say, and read cold, anabasis’ comment and the reaction could be seen as incommensurate.

    However, anabasis is a known quantity here—at this very moment, he’s over on the Ukraine thread, pompously explaining to everybody that the Nazis were a left-wing party because they eliminated the bicycle tax when they took over the Netherlands, and communism is an extreme right-wing philosophy. IOW, he’s out of his freakin’ mind.

  54. 54
    anabasis
  55. 55
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Amazon, too?

    I’m already boycotting Wal-Mart. I’m probably going to start boycotting Target. I’m not sure where else I’m going to shop when I can already barely afford to shop at Amazon as it is.

    For fuck’s sake. Why is trying to save money and get things cheap so fucking unethical? Can’t there be one… just one… warehouse-like store (like Amazon, or Wal-Mart, or Target) that has cheap-enough prices and still uses ethical, safe businesses practices?

    I mean… what the fuck?

    I honestly don’t think I can afford to boycott all three, and that’s the shittiest part.

  56. 56
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    What bothers me is the assumption that anyone who posts factual assertions contrary to the perceived, revealed wisdom MUST be lying.

    Try searching for such people in other threads. Anabasis has shown extreme stupidity/trolling with every post on every thread they have participated in. Why shouldn’t their trolling be called out for what it is? Not just a difference of opinion, but being factually wrong and obnoxious, classic definitions of an idiological troll.

  57. 57
    Marcus Ranum

    I assume Amazon still get a cut even if it’s actually sold by someone else? Ebay could be the way forward…

    Yeah, amazon gets a cut. At a certain point I think it’s OK for a marketplace to get a cut for providing the market and there’s some value in having a currency option for online sales (otherwise I’d be exposing my credit card all over the place)…

    I prefer Ebay because there’s a more direct buyer/seller relationship.

  58. 58
    Marcus Ranum

    Can’t there be one… just one… warehouse-like store (like Amazon, or Wal-Mart, or Target) that has cheap-enough prices and still uses ethical, safe businesses practices?

    They can’t; it’s pretty much a race to the bottom because someone can always go lower by squeezing more “efficiencies” out of the stack.

  59. 59
    Pteryxx

    gworroll #43:

    Maybe if Amazon spent some money on the hiring process, they wouldn’t need all that insanity. Hire the right people and you don’t have to worry nearly so much about theft.

    Actually, employee theft becomes a problem because employees are being treated like crap by the company. Screening out (and blaming) supposed bad employees has little or nothing to do with it.

    The most extensive and impressive stream of research on employee theft has been conducted by Jerald Greenberg, who has done a host of laboratory and field studies (e.g, in manufacturing plants and retails stores) that show stealing is driven, in large part, by employees’ desires to “get even” with companies and managers who treat them in cold and unfair ways. The incentive to get something valuable is part of the story with theft, but his research suggests that giving people bad explanations and treating them without dignity is what really pisses people-off and drives them to exact revenge –to steal to get even.

    Work Matters blog (at Psychology Today, but still)

    See for instance research by Greenberg, Employee theft as a reaction to underpayment inequity (PDF link), and Why employees commit fraud:

    The researchers concluded the most common reason employees committed fraud had little to do with opportunity, but more with motivation—the more dissatisfied the employee, the more likely he or she was to engage in criminal behavior. One criminologist described the phenomenon as “wages in kind.” All of us have a sense of our own worth; if we believe we are not being fairly treated or adequately compensated, statistically we are at much higher risk of trying to balance the scales.

    Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up saving more on security than they spend on HR budgets.

    How Costco became the anti-Wal Mart (bolds mine)

    Mr. Sinegal begs to differ. He rejects Wall Street’s assumption that to succeed in discount retailing, companies must pay poorly and skimp on benefits, or must ratchet up prices to meet Wall Street’s profit demands.

    Good wages and benefits are why Costco has extremely low rates of turnover and theft by employees, he said. And Costco’s customers, who are more affluent than other warehouse store shoppers, stay loyal because they like that low prices do not come at the workers’ expense. “This is not altruistic,” he said. “This is good business.”

  60. 60
    robro

    NateHevens @#55

    Why is trying to save money and get things cheap so fucking unethical?

    Unfortunately, the biggest cost to most businesses is labor, so to provide the money saving attractor to us Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, et al have to drive down labor costs. There are several ways to do this: lower wages, reduced benefits, and increase productivity. Given the anti-labor union sentiment in this country and the fact that government agencies like OSHA are largely run for their benefit, there is little pressure on these businesses to change their ways.

  61. 61
    Pteryxx

    Can’t there be one… just one… warehouse-like store (like Amazon, or Wal-Mart, or Target) that has cheap-enough prices and still uses ethical, safe businesses practices?

    Well, there’s Costco.

    They can’t; it’s pretty much a race to the bottom because someone can always go lower by squeezing more “efficiencies” out of the stack.

    That’s overlooking the huge INefficiencies of massive CEO pay, advertising and media spin, and political contributions to ensure anti-union sentiments and lax regulatory environments. Crushing your employees would make a company a lot more profitable if the top executives weren’t skimming millions or billions to sit in their bank accounts and fester.

  62. 62
    Rey Fox

    stillacrazycanuck: Still think anabasis is a good source and an honest interlocutor?

  63. 63
    Rey Fox

    Try searching for such people in other threads.

    I’d never seen this particular dip until this morning.

  64. 64
    Charly

    @Lynna, OM

    It was mentioned up-thread that Amazon workers in Germany have it marginally better thanks to labor unions and government oversight.

    It seems to me that I have unwillingly caused some confusion, since the only mention of Germany is by me. If so, I apologize and clarify:

    I have no idea how it is for employees of Amazon in Germany. I do not work for Amazon. But I work for an american corporation (which I will not name, but which PZ could find out if he ever has a reason to look up the IP adresses from which I comment, since I commented from work too). I only assume that German workers for american corporations in general have it better than those in US, because unions at my place of work actively thwart some of the more egregious violations of basic decency (like helping to dispose of abusive boss) and help the workers to defend themselves against violations of work law (like helping them to get adequate compensation for dismissal) . Of this I have concrete examples, which I of course cannot show/say in public, since I love my work and I need the income. And it would be off topic anyway.

    I hope it is clear now what I wanted to say, I stop derailing the thread with my rambling and go off sleep.

  65. 65
    twas brillig (stevem)

    <tangent> CD’s. Amozon *seems* to also dominate the CD sales business. He, where I live now; there are still a few “brick and mortar” CD distributors, but when I lived in CA (Bay area) CD stores were essentially non-existent [so frustrating]. The only place to buy CD’s was Amazon. If you wanted a physical CD and not just tunes on your iPod (looking at you iTunes). This is just a tangent, but it is another example of Amazon dominating markets, in yet another market. </tangent>
    The OP is interesting, and well worth knowing for my next purchases.

    Amazon will just blame it on consumers for giving them money cuz they are too lazy to go to a realz store and just want everything delivered to them. That Amazon got so much money and such a big marketshare cuz consumers are lazy, and pay money to Amazon; to be lazy. [or is that what Liberturds will say?]

  66. 66
    Pteryxx

    Also, looks like Powell’s Books became unionized in 1999, though the owner hasn’t been enthusiastic about it:

    Wiki

    Dissent Magazine, 1999

    Michael Powell, for one, has taken the union victory very personally indeed. “I thought I was a compassionate employer,” he says. “I thought I tried to reward my employees as best I could. That point of view was rejected. It shakes your confidence in who you are and what your values are.”

    “Even employers who want to do good end up acting like employers,” Paul Mishler observes. “That’s why you need unions.” As for employers who claim that they already treat their employees so well that a union isn’t necessary, Mishler says, “That’s like asking, would you need democracy if you always had a nice president? It’s a silly question. The fact is that dictators always end up doing bad things, and employers are the same. Without a union [an SR workplace] is a benevolent dictatorship.”

  67. 67
    melissajones

    This is the way it is in factories in the US too. So if you really give a damn you need to stop buying from corporations that treat their factory workers this way also. That would be most of them. The people on the bottom, the ones who actually produce the goods are treated as disposable. They are told that they are disposable on a regular basis. We all contribute every day to the culture that has created this problem. You can stop buying from Amazon but you won’t fix the problem that way. I worked with people in a factory for 13 years who were grateful to be treated like crap. They thought they deserved it. The republicans tell them they deserve it. Religious organizations tell them they deserve it. This isn’t anything new. It’s been going on for a long time so don’t think you guys are being noble by giving up Amazon. If you’ve never been fodder you are privileged indeed.

  68. 68
    vortmax

    So I’m sure you’ll be removing the sidebar link to Amazon for your book.

  69. 69
    Alverant

    #65 Well there’s cdbaby.com which is decent. But some of the artists complain about not getting enough for their music (the company wants to wait until they owe you get a certain amount), but if you want more independent artists, it’s better than some alternatives.

    As for Costco, there’s not one near me. But I’m in Chicagoland which had the grocery store chain Dominix pull out last December leaving a lot of empty stores behind. I am hoping Costco will see this an an opportunity to expand. Oh and back to the topic, Dominix shut down because the investors wanted higher dividens and blamed unions for not giving it to them. Turned out most of the employees were not union at all; people didn’t want to pay their high prices.

  70. 70
    The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge

    @ melissajones #67:

    I’ve been in private security, where you’re stationed at a company as an object-lesson for their employees: “See, your job may be a living hell, but at least you’re not them!”

  71. 71
    ekwhite

    Alverant @65:

    Try amoeba.com. Amoeba Records is a brick and mortar record store in LA. Ugly website but a good record store.

  72. 72
    latecomer

    Cant say I’m surprised by this revelation about Amazon. It’s the price of being a large company. Plus, the corporate robots who make these production targets are often out of touch with how hard it is to sustain those levels over the long term.

  73. 73
    David Marjanović

    Stakhnovism [...] Stakhnovism

    StakhAAAAAAAAAAAAAnov.

    That’s the stressed vowel of his name Salon left out twice.

    And yet people still want to work for Amazon.

    In the US, there are 3 unemployed people for every open job. Any more questions?

    (I note that I have only personally seen females cry)

    Perfect troll. :-D Keep dancing for us!

  74. 74
    caesar

    I used to work at a call center doing tech support for Verizon customers. It was a depressing soul sucking job, which I would never do again except in a case of extreme desperation. The customers many times made me want to mercilessly slaughter them. What made it worse were the performance targets that the corporate robots required us to meet,as well as the script we had to stick to. Basically, the stress and the difficulty of meeting the targets made for an annoying job with a high turnover rate. My advice to the Amazon employees is to either quit, get promoted to manager, so that you can get paid more for doing less work, or get the education necessary to move to a less labor intensive desk job.

  75. 75
    Al Dente

    caesar @73

    My advice to the Amazon employees is to either quit, get promoted to manager, so that you can get paid more for doing less work, or get the education necessary to move to a less labor intensive desk job.

    Beatrice @9 linked to a Guardian article which said:

    What did you do before, I ask people. And they say they’re builders, hospitality managers, marketing graduates, IT technicians, carpenters, electricians. They owned their own businesses, and they were made redundant. Or the business went bust. Or they had a stroke. Or their contract ended. They are people who had skilled jobs, or professional jobs, or just better-paying jobs. And now they work for Amazon, earning the minimum wage, and most of them are grateful to have that.

    Seems like your advice wouldn’t work with these people. Many of them had better jobs which required education and they lost those jobs, often due to no fault of their own. When the choice is work for Amazon or starve, most people will work for Amazon.

  76. 76
    DrMcCoy

    Alverant #69 and stevem #65: If you want actual independant artists, have a look at Bandcamp. :)

  77. 77
    see_the_galaxy

    I completely agree with PZM here. And with hyphenman about Powell’s!

  78. 78
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Natehevens #55
    The thing is that boycotts are basically crap in a situation like this, because as you note there aren’t good options for the most part, and when there are you can’t afford to shop there because your own employer is screwing you on wages. This is why the fixes need to occur at a national policy level.

    Robro #60
    Labor isn’t the highest cost, it’s the easiest to cut in the absence of counterbalancing factors like minimum wages and unions. The greatest inefficiencies (i.e. places where cuts to spending won’t hurt performance on the ground) are to be found in executive and managerial pay, as such people get hundreds or thousands of times what working employees receive, in exchange for doing things that are useless at best and more usually counterproductive( in terms of actually producing/providing goods and services).

  79. 79
    imthegenieicandoanything

    #54 Wow! “Ice cream” Mmmm. That’s some quality trolling! By which I mean, fuck off AND die.

    Why is this shit not already canned forever?

  80. 80
    anteprepro

    I can confirm that this sounds very similar to working at CVS, which I already confirmed sounded very similar to working at WalMart. Fucking corporations will bleed you dry and laugh about it over escargot.

  81. 81
    PZ Myers

    “Anabasis” was previously banned under the names “Hank Williams” and “georget”. Cleanup in progress.

  82. 82
    wilsim

    ** I have not read the comments, yet. If someone already covered this, sorry.

    I do not know if this is a national labor law or not (it is law in Oregon) but transit time to an from breaks and lunches can not be counted as part of your break or lunch. You are given, IIRC, up to 5 minutes of transit in either direction.

    If Amazon is making their employees wait in line before and after lunch and breaks to be scanned, and counting that time as break or lunch time they will have a very heavy lawsuit coming their direction.

  83. 83
    Jafafa Hots

    regarding Amazon marketplace, yes of course they get a cut of the book sale, when I last sold it added up to around 25 percent.

    They also have this thing where they charge , lets say $6.50 for a Marketplace book to be shipped.
    Of that shipping charge, they allow about #4 to the seller – the person actually doing the shipping. On larger books it often doesn’t even cover the postage cost.

    Amazon’s policy? If the shipping amount they give you doesn’t cover the cost, you as a seller are to make up the difference out of the rest of the sale price.

    And when postage prices go up? Amazon usually doesn’t increase the amount passed along to sellers/shippers, sellers just have to eat the extra cost.

    Meanwhile Amazon keeps about 50% of the “shipping charge” they charged the customer for an item that Amazon has never had to stock or ship. Customers get mad at high shipping costs, and sellers get yelled at, but they don’t even get enough to ship via slow “media mail.”

    Customers pay far more for shipping, still get slow shipping, sellers take a hit… and amazon just pockets the “shipping” cost.

  84. 84
    Anne D

    I’ve also had good luck book-hunting on Half.com. I believe that is still owned by eBay. Etsy can also be a good resource, if you’re looking for arts or crafts books, or random vintage.

  85. 85
    ledasmom

    Part of the point of the metrics, of course, is for them to be (as a group) unmeetable; that means that every worker can be written up for not meeting at least one of them, thereby allowing for the tiniest bit of ass-covering, if needed, by Amazon: We had cause to fire that guy, you see, because he wasn’t meeting the metrics. What do you mean they’re unmeetable? We can show you people who met this one that the guy we’re firing didn’t. Of course, those people would be missing different metrics, thereby making them eminently fire-able, if necessary.
    There seems to be this conviction that people should work at their peak constantly and that anything under peak is slacking, the same sort of thinking that sets ever-increasing quotas (because if you can do 75, well, you can do 76, can’t you, just by trying a little harder, and if you can do 76 you can do 77, and -). This is the mindset that may know the employees are human, but really, really doesn’t care. If they break, there’s always another one, isn’t there, and then another one behind that one, and another one behind that. If it’s more efficient to work the cogs, or the engines, or the employees until they break and then replace them, rather than do proper maintenance, well, do that, then, rather than make less than the most profit you can.
    I would sort of like to think I’m being too cynical here, but I’m afraid I don’t think I am.

  86. 86
    kreativekaos

    Bezos, just another corporate snake. I think I’ve heard of the vile treatment of workers before at Amazon, and I think I’m going to be voting with my money by divesting them of my purchases. Anyone know of any net-based alternatives to Amazon?

    [PZ, I understand about the bookstore situation you relate. We had a number of very good Borders stores locally, until they went under in 2011. It really pissed me off, not just concerning the availability of books, but also for the employees, who were great.]

  87. 87
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    wilsim #81
    *laughs bitterly* Yeah, right, that’s going to happen. Filing one of those takes time and money, and one of the points of this bullshit is to make sure the people victimized haven’t got either.

    ledasmom
    This is part of the deeply warped usage of ‘efficiency’ which corporate capitalism insists on. ‘Efficiency’ is not a concept that can exist alone; saying “This process is efficient” by itself is meaningless. It has to do something efficiently; i.e. with minimal expenditure of resources. What for-profit companies do efficiently is move money into the pockets of shareholders and executives. This is not at all the same as efficiently producing/providing goods and/or services, and usually seriously impairs same. Libertarians and other marketroids invariably conflate the two, and insist that efficiency the first can only come from efficiency the second, ignoring that in practice the two are directly contradictory, and increasing one cannot help but decrease the other.

  88. 88
    Alverant

    Oh yeah, how can I forget Bandcamp. It gets plugged nearly every week on the Fump (free comedy music twice a week). Plus more goes to the artist. But it does a lot of electronic downloads. I like having physical CDs for when a hard drive crashes (they all fail eventually) and so that it can be autographed.

  89. 89
    David C Brayton

    Huh? Is PZ’s argument that a company shouldn’t fire people that can’t satisfy relevant performance measures?

    The measures against theft seem appropriate. I worked at a company that treated it employees particularly well. One year of the company paid everyone bonuses of more than 100% and matched 401(k) contributions 100%. (No, I’m not exaggerating.) Yet, there were cases of of spectacular theft–one where someone embezzled $500K and another where someone stole $100K of raw materials/supplies.

  90. 90
    anteprepro

    Huh? Is PZ’s argument that a company shouldn’t fire people that can’t satisfy relevant performance measures?

    *blink*

    Are you really, actually confused about this? Or are you trying to start a rousing game of corporate apologetics?

  91. 91
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Huh? Is PZ’s argument that a company shouldn’t fire people that can’t satisfy relevant performance measures?

    Define relevant performance measures.
    I’ll say what 50% of the workers can do in a 8.5 hour shift. Now, argue from there….

  92. 92
    chigau (違う)

    anteprepro #89
    My money’s on your second choice.

  93. 93
    sadunlap

    This is an old problem, and has been getting worse over time: the industrial revolution created a group, or class if you prefer, of people who can not live any other way than by wage employment. This group has grown over the centuries not only in number but in proportion of the human population. At the same time, alternatives to wage employment have disappeared. The forests in which my father and grandfather poached game in order to eat during the 1930s no longer exist. I traveled to that part of the country in 2003 to find the forests replaced with housing. People around the world increasingly face a choice between having a job or facing destitution and an early death. This is the freedom they get to have.

    If any place in the world can offer businesses the same skill level as U.S. workers but lower costs that’s where the jobs requiring that skill level will go. This is the legal business model. Whatever standards the majority of humanity enacts to defend themselves from having to compete with each other to work for the least amount – these standards have to be international.

    We can easily see the long game that corporate leaders play. A quick, anecdotal, example: a grocery store in my neighborhood closed in 2003 when its employees tried to unionize. The store remains closed to this day – paying the rent on an empty storefront in an affluent neighborhood is worth the cost to stop unions. As long as people must serve corporations and not the other way around this will be our lives, and it’s only going to get worse.

  94. 94
    Kagehi
    you’re a modern serf, relentlessly monitored and given increasingly unreachable goals.

    is corporate America in a nutshell, and describes 90% of the jobs I’ve held in my lifetime.

    Yeah. Pretty much. Where I work the *corporation* decides how many hours are available, it was a near thing that they didn’t F us the same way some other similar companies where, instead of just the lowest paid people, the “negotiations” for contracts have, in the word of one person that I work with, “lost us something every single time the prior contract came up for renewal.”, and finally.. 20 minute lunches? Where can I @#$#$@# sign up? At least I won’t need heartburn meds then. We get a whole 13 minutes, the first 3 of which are not “officially” part of the break, but our store gives us anyway, on the theory that, in most cases, that is *just enough* time to buy something to eat in the other 10.

  95. 95
    mildlymagnificent

    There seems to be this conviction that people should work at their peak constantly and that anything under peak is slacking

    This stupid idea should have died long ago. It is neither normal nor sensible for people to work all day every day as though they were filling sandbags beside a flooding river once in a decade. Or perhaps like an athlete/ swimmer/ gymnast working up to peak performance at an international meet – they don’t exert themselves every day the way they do when in top-level competition.

    A workforce that has no energy, time or space to accommodate a seasonal or an unusual peak in demand for their work is not an efficient workforce – there must be reserves of speed or exertion available for those occasions.

  96. 96
    Greta Christina

    Why is trying to save money and get things cheap so fucking unethical?

    NateHevens @#55: Because many of the things companies do to lower prices are unethical: from paying substandard wages (close to slave labor wages in some countries), to driving small and local businesses out of the market, to cutting corners in safety standards (both in workplaces and in products).

    We have an unreasonably low sense of what it costs to make and ship things, and we expect everything to be cheap, without looking at the long-term and indeed medium-term costs of that cheapness. (Look at what happens when a Wal-Mart moves into a community: the products are cheaper, and people abandon local businesses that charge more, but then the people who work for those local businesses are out of work when they close down, and they then have to work for Wal-Mart, who pays for shit and has horrible benefits and treats their employees like dirt but is now the only employer in town.)

    I get that not everyone can afford to pay a little more for somewhat more expensive but ethically produced products. Those of us who can, should.

  97. 97
    kelvinwoelk

    Try http://www.betterworldbooks.com. Donations and purchases support literacy campaigns. New and used books, sometimes through 3rd parties. Sorry if this repeated information, I haven’t read through every comment.

  98. 98
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    For those in the Chicago area, try The Book Table in Oak Park. Locally owned, have a brick-and-mortar store which is fun to browse, willing to do special orders, the owners are good people, the store is ~3 blocks from the end of the Green Line, which is also the Oak Park Metra stop (and along 2 bus routes, and within walking distance of several others), and they will ship to you if you want it. (In fact, if you’re willing to pay for shipping, go ahead and order from them even if you aren’t in the Chicago area.) And within well under a mile, there’s also a vast number of restaurants, a movie theater, three grocery stores, a public library, a huge number of historic buildings, and all sorts of other interesting stuff.

  99. 99
    Avgi Kyriazi

    Unfortunately I am in a country where foreign language books are not easily available and there is no market for ebooks. Also, I have friends and family all over the world and getting presents for them is often feasible only through something international like Amazon and there are also a lot of independent sellers and self-publishing ebook authors who depend on Amazon for their livelihood.

    Would the following work?

    Not getting Amazon Prime
    Using vouchers for the ebook and mp3 store instead of getting physical presents
    Always using super saver delivery-no extra money for postage
    For presents in Europe using the german store, where the business practices are under scrutiny and criticism
    Using the alternative sellers when possible
    Letting them know that the above is the reason they will not be getting my hard-earned money.

    Any help would be appreciated

  100. 100
    rorschach

    Greta @95,

    We have an unreasonably low sense of what it costs to make and ship things, and we expect everything to be cheap, without looking at the long-term and indeed medium-term costs of that cheapness.

    Here in Australia, bookstores have all but died out(not just independent ones, the big chains have left as well) because people are not prepared to pay the insane protective levy that the government has slapped onto non-Aussie books to “protect local writers”. If you have to pay 35 bucks for a paperback novel, you look for other options, and for many people including me, that’s Amazon.

    But yes, I will have to look into alternatives after reading this.

  101. 101
    unclefrogy

    didn’t we have a long thread a little bit ago about the 1% and taxes and there was some who had the great doubt about how the 1% got the money unethically.

    the next time the union movement starts growing again which it .will there must, there will be much more international cooperation between workers organizations than there ever was in the past. It is the only thing that workers can do in the face of international business.
    The tactic to day is not to bring in scabs it is to simply move to a lower wage location.
    When all the good paying jobs have disappeared the people that remain have to take what ever shit they can stand to get the money they need to stay alive.
    more a general comment it is much the same in most industries and businesses this ain’t new stuff.
    uncle frogy

  102. 102
    Nick Gotts

    Right, no more Amazon for me. Iwasn’t aware (although of course I could have been if I’d investigated) just what a shitbag company they are. Thanks to those who’ve posted online alternatives.

  103. 103
    opposablethumbs

    International employment standards would at least go some little way towards genuinely levelling the playing-field. As long as it’s legal for capital to fly off around the world to wherever people can be exploited the most, while labour is not permitted the same freedom of movement across borders …
    .
    (It was Walton who helped me understand that, btw. Thank you Walton.)
    .
    Oh, and if we have global corporations we bloody well ought to have global unions.

  104. 104
    David Utidjian

    Nate @ 55: Costco is one of the least unethical of the warehouse stores. Does’t mean to say they are some wonderful ‘workers utopia’ but they are pretty good compared to all the others.

  105. 105
    carlie

    Radiolab just had an episode about this also. They also talk about how there is a level of production up with employees simply cannot put.

  106. 106
    sonofrojblake

    I clicked the picture of PZ’s book at the top of this page, and guess where it took me?

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307379345/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=pharyngula-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0307379345

    Mixed messages?

  107. 107
    Pteryxx

    …dear loo, the comments on that Radiolab link. ‘what’s she complaining about, all warehouse/service jobs are like that, suck it up’ ‘unions are worthless and get companies shut down’ ‘how are companies supposed to make a profit without production quotas’ ‘why don’t you US workers do something about it instead of complaining’.

  108. 108
    anteprepro

    Barnes and Noble and their website might be a good alternative (though they could be just as bad for all I know).

    I clicked the picture of PZ’s book at the top of this page, and guess where it took me?

    Already been pointed out. Though thanks for giving more evidence for those who have been noting your assholishness streak. Don’t break the combo!

  109. 109
    Pteryxx

    Amazon looks to be installing Kiva robotics systems in some of its warehouses, but they bought the Kiva company outright to do it.

    Boston Globe

    But as Kiva ramps up production of its robotic systems for its new parent — the number on order from Amazon may be as high as 18,000, according to one trade publication, and could be higher according to my sources — the big question is what happens to Kiva’s early customers. Major retailers such as Staples, Walgreens, Gap, Office Depot, and Crate & Barrel installed Kiva’s technology in their warehouses. And now they all must grapple not only with possible shortages of Kiva bots, but also whether they want to do business with a direct competitor.

    Amazon was always Kiva’s white whale: Though the e-tailer acquired a couple companies that used Kiva technology, like Diapers.com, it never became a customer itself. Then, in March 2012, in the second-biggest acquisition in its history, Amazon bought Kiva outright. Since then, Kiva has fallen under Amazon’s cone of silence. Press releases have all but stopped. No one at Kiva or Amazon would comment for this story.

    But the impression is that Kiva’s interest in selling to non-Amazon customers has waned. The company hasn’t announced a new customer since it became part of Amazon, and much of its sales staff has departed. The company continues to hire — but in departments like engineering and manufacturing, not sales or marketing. It could be that satisfying Amazon’s appetite for Kiva bots is consuming most of the company’s resources.

    John Lert, a Wakefield robotics entrepreneur, says that for Amazon, which operates more than 40 fulfillment centers around North America, “it was cheaper to buy the company than pay Kiva a license fee for the technology.”

    I called every customer that Kiva had announced prior to the Amazon acquisition, but none wanted to comment on the record, beyond confirming that they use Kiva robots in their warehouses.

    “I think they’re in a delicate position,” says Lert, referring to Kiva’s early customers. “They need support, maintenance, and replacement parts, and they’re dealing with Amazon as their supplier, whom they also compete with. If I were in their shoes, I would be reluctant to tick off Amazon, too.”

  110. 110
    sonofrojblake

    PZ notes that Amazon treats its employees inhumanely, but shills for Amazon with a link on the very same page because he’ll benefit from it too.

    I point this out.

    And I’m the asshole here. OK.

  111. 111
    anteprepro

    And I’m the asshole here. OK.

    The first step is acceptance.

  112. 112
    PZ Myers

    sonofrojblake: yes, you are the asshole here! Good of you to notice!

    I have a responsibility to promote my book. The number one biggest site in the world for marketing books is Amazon — and yes, I deplore the emerging monopoly, as well as their business practices. I plan to update those links with an alternative source, but right now I’m sitting in an emergency room, I’ve got classes stacked up ahead of me, and I’m flying off to a conference on Wednesday. I am not jumping to meet your demands right now, so I suggest that you fuck off.

  113. 113
    chigau (違う)

    sonofrojblake

    And I’m the asshole here. OK.

    Well, that’s not the only reason.

  114. 114
    David Wilford

    Barnes & Noble is a decent alternative to Amazon and I’m guessing that there’s still a place for a brick-and-mortar bookstore too. But the market for printed books is shrinking and I expect further book store closings as more and more book buyers adopt tablets.

  115. 115
    rainmaker42

    This is but one example of the results of capitalism. It’s very likely that the food most people ate today was harvested by workers laboring in harsh conditions, the laptops or ipads, people used to comment on this article were produced in a sweatshop. With the world economy pretty much set up thus, what is one to do?

  116. 116
    Crimson Clupeidae

    I’ve considered the idea of starting an online book club/used book store. It would the book equivalent of boardgamegeek, with reviews (written by people who read the books, hopefully keeping the paid shills to a minimum). People would list what books they have for sale/trade, and what books they wanted.

    Should I find some techies and get this started? I would prefer to run it as a non-profit, or at least as some kind of co-op where the people using it get something back in cash or credit, with a minimal skimming to pay for the website (hopefully, my time commitment would be minimal after some initial time).

    I guess I’d have to figure out the idea behind ‘math trades’…..

  117. 117
    caesar

    This is but one example of the results of capitalism. It’s very likely that the food most people ate today was harvested by workers laboring in harsh conditions, the laptops or ipads, people used to comment on this article were produced in a sweatshop

    On the other hand, those same people working for extremely low wages would otherwise be starving to death,so I guess we could call that progress.

  118. 118
    llamaherder

    Part of my job is spent on the management side of this. We do a lot of the same things as far as process goes. We’re running the A/C during the summer, avoiding wage theft, and all-around just avoiding the worst offenses cited in that article, but every part of the process is meticulously tracked and regimented.

    As management, you look at the numbers, find efficiencies, and implement them. It’s your job. You’re getting paid by the shareholders to make those numbers good.

    Trouble is, those numbers don’t care about the employees themselves. If there’s a change that increases the shareholders’ bottom line, the shareholders expect you to implement that change regardless of how the employees feel about it. Management at my company is made up of a bunch of liberals, so we do make a genuine effort to treat our employees well. However, it can be hard to balance the needs of the company against the needs of the employees when every single incentive is pushing you to rule in favor of the bottom line.

    This is precisely why unions are so important. Their only interest is the employees, and it forces management to take the employees’ needs into account with every decision. We don’t have a union, and I guarantee our employees suffer as a result.

  119. 119
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    opposablethumbs #103

    Oh, and if we have global corporations we bloody well ought to have global unions.

    IWW for the win.

    llamaherder #118

    As management, you look at the numbers, find efficiencies, and implement them.

    See my earlier post about efficiency; you’re not looking for ways to efficiently do things that the customers or the workers give a damn about having done.

    If there’s a change that increases the shareholders’ bottom line, the shareholders expect you to implement that change regardless of how the employees feel about it

    The existence of shareholders as such is one of the biggest flaws in our current system.

    However, it can be hard to balance the needs of the company against the needs of the employees when every single incentive is pushing you to rule in favor of the bottom line.

    Bullshit. The desires of the parasite class have nothing to do with the needs of a functioning business and never have done. You’re trying to balance the needs of the company with the demands of a bunch of petulant useless greedheads.

    This is precisely why unions are so important.

    Unions are a half-assed half measure, but better than nothing.

  120. 120
    ck

    I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Amazon practices forced stack ranking of its employees, too. It’s very popular in IT companies, and usually results in dismal working conditions. Sure enough, I just checked, and I’m apparently right, although they prefer to call it something different Funny how I could predict that without ever having worked for the company.

  121. 121
    llamaherder

    Bullshit. The desires of the parasite class have nothing to do with the needs of a functioning business and never have done. You’re trying to balance the needs of the company with the demands of a bunch of petulant useless greedheads.

    Generally speaking, this is true. The reason unions are important is because it forces the company to take the employees’ needs into account. As it stands, we’re basically considering them when it’s convenient for us, which is not good enough.

  122. 122
    Great American Satan

    Amazon has a colored badge system where blue = employees with decent benefits tat probably still labor in creepy IT fascist circumstances, green = contractors and temps who can and will be jettisoned at a moment’s notice, and yellow = vendors, AKA: human waste.

    I worked in the human waste category until I was laid off with practically no notice, as part of a move that could only be described as union busting, along with dozens of people who were suddenly left with no income and no way to pay for life-essential medication, and hundreds of other able-bodied but economically disadvantaged types. Fuck Amazon.

    And just like WalMart – another corporation from hell – I use their services several times a year. I have Amazon accounts for France and Japan as well. I never stop being aware of how much billionaires have us by the throats, and act like we’re the ones trying to do something to them. If that happens, assholes, you know goddamn well why it’s going to happen.

    As I must, The Coup:

  123. 123
    caesar

    On the bright side, if Amazon succeeds in developing a working model for shipping goods via autonomous drone-copters, all those people slaving away trying to meet those performance targets will be laid off and be free from Amazon’s oblivious corporate robots.

  124. 124
    Brony

    I’m not religious myself. But I’m pretty sure that some things in religion have root in history even if the ultimate explanations are off.

    I get suspicion that we are in the process of figuring out why Muslims and some other religious groups have a problem with interest. There is just something that sucks the life out of a community when you let people create value with no work of their own.

  125. 125
    jodyp

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back it up a little bit, please.

    PZ: you’re in an emergency room???

  126. 126
    sirbedevere

    I’m amazed that this is even news any more in 2014. I’ve been boycotting Amazon.com ever since I read this article: http://www.seattleweekly.com/1998-07-15/news/how-i-escaped-from-amazon-cult/
    .. in nineteen-ninety-fuckin-seven (1997).

    I get all my books from powells.com

    My favorite online source of computer hardware, geeks.com, was essentially put out of business by Amazon in the past year. Amazon is just the online version of Wal-Mart.

  127. 127
    Greta Christina

    With the world economy pretty much set up thus, what is one to do?

    rainmaker42 @ #115: What we can, when we can. When we can: Buy from small local businesses. Buy from companies with reasonably ethical practices. Boycott companies with truly horrible practices. Support unions: don’t cross picket lines, buy union when you can, use social media to spread the word about unionizing and labor events. Talk with people about this stuff. Unionize.

  128. 128
    hyphenman

    @No. 127 Greta Christina…

    What you said.

  129. 129
    robinjohnson

    Jeff Bezos has a net worth of 27 billion dollars.

    A minor point, but can we stop phrasing “Jeff Bezos has 27 billion dollars” like that? He’s worth no more than the rest of us.

  130. 130
    nathanaelnerode

    Amazon is very close to a monopoly in a lot of specialized areas: there is simply a *much* larger available catalog there than anywhere else. Unfortunately, for that reason, I don’t find it avoidable. I guess I’m getting a lot of stuff which doesn’t have “fulfilment by Amazon”, FWIW.

    I use other stores when viable, and when there’s *any* evidence that they’re better — the stories of other book warehouse operations are awful too, unfortunately.

    I think all we can do is support a different society. Unions, sure, a band-aid. Ideally, co-ops, though they have failure modes too (demutualization comes to mind).

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