More signs we live in a dystopia

Last week, I ordered some extra warm fleece-lined slippers to wear around the house. It gets cold around here! I did not consider the torments workers have to go through to keep my toes warm and comfy. They got to suffer through arbitrary, ridiculous rules that benefit the billionaires at the top, but mean they get to work in conditions that Dickens or Kafka might have imagined.

So this rule is incredibly petty, and it kills.

In Indiana:

Last week, a man shot and killed eight people at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. Those people and others working on site couldn’t call or text their families to tell them what was happening because some FedEx employees aren’t allowed to bring their cellphones into work.

In Illinois:

An Inc. warehouse collapse on Friday night that killed at least six people has amplified concerns among its blue collar workforce about the return of the internet retailer’s mobile phone ban in work areas.

But why does such a ban even exist? These are workers who are constantly evaluated on their performance already, and that should be all their employer cares about: how many boxes do they move from Shelf A to Truck B during their shift. That’s demanding enough, especially when they also have these rules about how often you can use the bathroom, so why these additional rules that say you can’t even have a cell phone in your pocket? Isn’t it cracking the whip hard enough to say you can’t make personal calls during your shift?

I can’t imagine answering a personal phone call while I’m teaching, but I’ve got one in my pocket (in fact, my university requires me to use my smartphone to enable computers and projectors in my lecture rooms). I turn off the ringer, and if it starts vibrating during class I ignore it — I just know that someone is trying to reach me, and I’ll check the calls when I get a break. That seems sensible and humane, not just for college professors, but for anyone who has a job to do.

So why should Amazon and FedEx have the right to control every second of a worker’s life? Probably because people are desperate enough for work that they’ll take these lousy repressive jobs for $15 an hour, so the company knows they have the power to squeeze.

How much money is Jeff Bezos making again?


  1. mastmaker says

    Not trying to defend the employers here or anything, but the reason no smartphones are allowed for certain jobs (in Amazon or FedEx) could be because they want to protect the privacy of customers. (Amazon ->) You cannot take a picture of a package destined to XYZ in ABC town with a vibrator about to go in it, or (FedEx -> ) you cannot leak the address and/or phone number of a celebrity by tweeting out the label of a package that came across, just because you recognized the name. It is hard to enforce “no pictures compromising user data” rule so they may have “no smartphones or cameras” rule. Just speculating here.

  2. wzrd1 says

    The only time and place where we all were prohibited access to our hell phones was in classified document processing rooms (to prevent someone with nefarious intent from activating our microphones from a compromised cell tower and hence, potentially compromised classified information). It quite literally extended to our Admiral and hence, was taken quite seriously.

    @René #2, we really should be capable of filtering out those microplastics before discharging into the sewer lines! Hell, filtering insoluble items would also lower the incidence of clogged pipes, such as from hair accumulating in inconvenient locations.
    What to do with filled filter media, well, any ideas out there?

  3. canuckyyank says

    One valid reason for prohibiting workers from carrying cellphones is when they are handling food – both in food processing jobs and in food service. Cellphones are FILTHY! Everyone uses them when sitting on a crapper and are they ever sanitized? Rarely. But there’s no excuse for prohibiting cellphones on site – just mandate that they’re kept in the employee lockers.

  4. says

    I have often been frustrated with co-workers who spend every second of downtime on their phone. You want to browse your social media, or check your facebook wait for your break. When I’m running a production line and I have to stop it to correct an issue I would hope the others on the line spend some time catching up on cleanup instead of facebooking. I can actually understand where these bans come from but I would never outright ban phones. I would insist people not use them when there’s work to be done though. Unfortunately some people can’t control themselves.

    The other thing that bothers me is co-workers who wear earbuds while working. I had this one kid who was always listening to pod casts. He was our delivery driver and he managed to have two accidents in a company vehicle. Then we had him on a forklift tidying up our warehouse cold storage unit. He tried to back out with the mast up and knocked down the whole wall. At least he was strapped in and stayed in the cage. Probably saved his life. I looked him in the eye and asked him “Which podcast were you listening to?”.

    These bans suck, but they exist because some people lack self control. That ruins it for the rest of us.

  5. notaandomposter says

    it’s lazy management:
    @5 above, I’m speculating there are already OSHA rules about wearing headphone/listening to distracting music/programs while operating machinery/driving- why was that allowed? You knew he had a history, why didn’t you prevent the accident? who was supervising this ‘kid’?

    to the fedex/ups/amazon crowds; “phones must be in off position and stowed on your person or in your locker while you are on the clock” is reasonable, humans should be able to check voicemail, make calls, play games whatever they want when not on the clock, (lunch breaks etc.) and it’s up to supervisors to supervise/enforce that policy “you can’t have a powered off cell phone in your pocket” isn’t reasonable. Lazy managers treat employees like children, good managers earn employees respect and their employees follow reasonable policies.

    I suspect Fedex/Amazon phone bans are more about preventing union organizing (or evidence gathering of illegal anti-union activity) than safety/security.

  6. William George says

    I suspect Fedex/Amazon phone bans are more about preventing union organizing (or evidence gathering of illegal anti-union activity) than safety/security.

    Don’t forget stopping employees from recording abuse and exploitation by the management.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Notaandomposter @ 7
    You are almost certainly right.
    I have made a long list of revenge fantasies, and they do not include anything as bland and harmless as a guillotine.

  8. anat says

    Re: microplastics: One way to mitigate the damage is to wash clothes less frequently. And in cold water if possible. The shortest cycle that works.

  9. robro says

    As we all know, the attitude of a lot of corporate leaders toward the grunts in the warehouses/factories/mines is “fuck’um.” They’re just suckers. When they get killed because of systemic negligence, the bosses offer something like this from Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon, in a fucking tweet:

    We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, Illinois. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone who has been impacted by the storm’s path across the U.S.

    Of course you are Dave. But they didn’t just “pass away”…they were killed.

  10. robro says

    OT but following on René @ #2: The latest fad in water starved and fire anxious California is to replace grass lawns with artificial turf, i.e. plastic that will be there for years, slowly breaking down and releasing micro-plastics into the environment. And if it’s not that, it’s the stylish “black mulch” that is made from all kinds of synthetic wood-like products that are heavily treated with preservatives and dyed.

  11. dbinmn says

    Amazon workers get written up for Time Off Task (ToT) for bathroom breaks which has led to the peeing in water bottles. I wonder how much ToT they will get for taking cover from a storm?

  12. says

    @7 notaandomposter
    Just to clarify, I’m not management I’m just the guy who knows how to operate the machinery and run the line. Managers are idiots who trade their freedom for notoriety.

  13. PaulBC says

    mastmaker@3 A lot of people deal with sensitive PII (Personal Identifiable Information). Think of everything an unscrupulous health care provider could do with what they can see on their screen. You “fix” that problem by setting rules, requiring employees to agree, and setting penalties from firing to criminal charges for breaking them.

    You don’t treat them like children.

  14. Rich Woods says

    @canuckyyank #5:

    Everyone uses them when sitting on a crapper

    I can honestly say that I have never done this and have absolutely no plans to do so. It’s not that I don’t have a phone, just that I don’t take it everywhere each and every day, and I’m not a slave to the fucking thing. Or to social media or to blog sites. Except possibly this one.

  15. flange says

    Another reason for Amazon and FedEx to deny cell phone use to their employees: If there’s an “incident” or catastrophe unfolding, they don’t want their employees calling the government or the media directly. Spin control.

  16. Walter Solomon says

    When I worked there, I and other employees would sneak phones through our lunch boxes. They actually do check your lunch but not very thoroughly.

    You could wrap your phone in foil or put it in Tupperware and sneak it on the work floor.

  17. Walter Solomon says

    PaulBC @20

    It really does. At the time I just shrugged it off as a dumb company rule. I think the excuse was related to theft prevention or something.

    It’s funny how your perspective changes when you no longer depend on a place for your income.

  18. microraptor says

    PaulBC@20: I’m sure that if Jeff Bezos thought he could get away with locking employees in cells when they’re not working and garnish their wages “to cover housing expenses”, he’d do it in a heartbeat.

  19. davidc1 says

    PS ,that git greg locke had his circus church tent damaged by a tornado .
    It did $100.000 worth of damage .