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13 Secrets of Amazon Warehouse Employees

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In 2014, Amazon sold two billion items worldwide. All those products, from phone cases to car seats, are stored inside Amazon’s fulfillment centers and then sorted and wrapped by warehouse workers. In the U.S. alone there are more than 50 of these gigantic buildings with 40,000 workers toiling away inside them, and that’s not counting the tens of thousands of part-time workers who join during busy seasons.

These are the people who make sure your package, no matter how big or small, gets to your doorstep. We spoke to a few of these employees about what it’s like to be part of the Amazon machine.

1. Not everyone has a horror story

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There have been dozens of stories portraying Amazon warehouses as inhumane, hellish workplaces, and while some workers may have been subject to these conditions, the ones I spoke to hadn’t. “It is certainly hard work,” said Brant Ivey, who spent six months in one of Amazon’s hubs lifting oversized objects. But “the conditions at the warehouse were on par or better than most other warehouses that I have been in.” One of the biggest complaints is that the warehouses are too hot. In 2012, after a lengthy expose revealed brutally hot summertime conditions, Amazon announced plans to spend $52 million to install air conditioning in its U.S. warehouses.

One Reddit user put it bluntly: “The work does suck, but all warehouse work sucks. I have experienced FAR worse conditions and been treated terrible by other Fortune 500 companies.”

2. They leave everything at the door

Amazon workers aren’t allowed to bring anything with them to the warehouse floor, including cell phones. They arrive empty-handed and leave empty-handed. “If you brought in your phone and you weren’t management, security would confiscate it and at end of night you had to go to security to pick it up,” says Charlee Mided, who worked in a warehouse in Phoenix, Arizona in 2013. “Then you’d get home late. So everyone knows not to do it.”

3. They hate the metal detectors

As an added layer of security, workers are subject to airport-style security checkpoints each time they leave the floor, including lunch break. According to Mided, when the lunch buzzer rings, there’s a mad rush to avoid the lines. “If you’re way over on one side of the warehouse and lunch is called, you have 30 minutes from that point to clock out, eat, and come back. You’re spending half your time waiting to be scanned out so you can be sure you’re not stealing anything. It leaves you with about 10 minutes for food.” The same lines form at the end of the day when workers pour out of the building. And workers don’t get paid to stand in line, thanks to a Supreme Court decision at the end of 2014 that ruled businesses like Amazon don't have to pay employees for the time they spend waiting to be scanned.

4. They have strict quotas

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Workers who pull items from shelves to fulfill your orders are known as “pickers,” and they are monitored for their speed and accuracy. “My only job was to grab two large, yellow plastic bins, put them on my double decker shopping cart, and fill them with the items that my scanner told me to find,” a former picker said during a Reddit AMA.

“At my peak, I was picking 120+ items per hour, and it was just good enough.”

5. And they walk. A lot.

Amazon fulfillment centers are colossal. One warehouse in Baltimore covers one million square feetor roughly 23 acres. That’s a lot of land to cover on foot. One employee, who worked in Amazon warehouses for 14 years, told us he walked 13 miles a day when picking. “That’s over a 10 hour period, so its like 1.3 miles per hour, which isn’t bad,” he says. “But doing it for 10 hours straight, by the third or fourth day your legs are almost like jelly.”

6. The shelves are chaos

When items arrive at the warehouse, they’re scanned and placed in cubby holes on one of hundreds of rows of shelves. But there’s no rhyme or reason to where they’re stored, and even seasoned warehouse employees can’t make sense of it. “Each cubby hole is filled with an assortment of items,” according to a former worker.

“There might be a book, a toothbrush, a copy of a Barbie VHS tape from 1993, and a pair of moccasins. And you'll only pick one of the items.” There’s a term for this: chaotic storage.

Amazon’s database knows where there’s empty shelf space and fills it as quickly as possible to maximize efficiency. Electronic scanners tell workers where to find the items they’re looking for. Video shows shelving chaos:

7. They have to do group exercises

“Every night, twice a night, when we showed up and when we came back from lunch we had to do calisthenics,” says Mided. “Jumping jacks, reacharounds, swinging our arms. It limbers you up and it really is helpful for the job, but it's just… it kinda makes you feel like you’re five.”

8. And bubble wrap is their entertainment

Mided says occasionally the machine that distributed bubble wrap at her warehouse cut too much, but workers didn’t mind. “They’d be like, ‘Oh look! Bubble wrap!’ You’d see people just sitting around popping bubble wrap. Everyone wanted to be on bubble wrap detail.” Amazon workers: They’re just like us!

9. The warehouse cafeteria is a war zone 

Workers have two lunch options: Bring your own, or buy a meal from one of dozens of vending machines stocked with mediocre microwavable meals like burgers and hot dogs. “You’d buy a hamburger and it didn’t taste like real beef,” one former worker told us. And good luck heating up your food. Mided’s warehouse cafeteria had about 20 microwaves, and the fight for zap time was fierce. “It was a war zone trying to get enough time to heat your food and then get out without being run over,” she says. “You would see people fight. The smartest thing to do was to pack something that doesn’t need microwaving, because that was killer.”

10. The warehouses have their own nurse’s office

"It’s very much like a school nurse’s office,” says Mided. “You sit down, they tell you to ice this or that. You tell them on a scale of one to 10 which face matches your pain. They really can’t treat you much. They can give you ice and aspirin, that’s about it.”

11. And fakers get put on broom duty

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"A lot of people would make up stuff just to get off the floor,” a former worker says. “Some people would just confuse being tired with being hurt. They’d say, ‘My legs hurt!’ No, you’ve just been walking around forever." If the nurse can't find anything wrong with you but you insist you're unwell, the supervisors will find an easy job for you to do that doesn't require any heavy lifting. More often than not, this means broom duty. "That's only good for the first hour,” Mided says. “Twelve hours of pushing a broom is the most mind-numbing thing on the planet. But that still doesn't prevent people from faking."

12. “Problem solver” is a warehouse job

It’s their responsibility to fix other people's mistakes. If a warehouse packer screws up on the assembly line, the Amazon machine knows it. Scales weigh each package, and if the weight is off, the box gets pulled and a “problem solver” is called over to inspect it. “If there is an error during any stage of the process, I find it, correct it, and provide the feedback to the person or cause of the error,” explains one problem solver in a recent Reddit AMA.

13. They see some crazy orders

If there’s one thing all Amazon warehouse workers will tell you, it’s that people order some weird things. “The amount of stand-up life-size Justin Biebers I saw was unnecessary,” Mided says. “And a lot more sex toys than you would think. Really odd ones. Even grown men or women warehouse workers are still kinda like a 12-year-old when they see that. Amazon really does sell everything.”

See Also:
19 On-the-Job Secrets of UPS Drivers
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10 Hotel Secrets from Behind the Front Desk 
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10 Things You Might Not Know About Flight Attendants

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6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
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Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

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11 Haunting Facts About Beloved

Toni Morrison—who was born on February 18, 1931—made a name for herself with The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, but it wasn’t until 1987’s Beloved, about a runaway slave haunted by the death of her infant daughter, that her legacy was secured. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and was a key factor in the decision to award Morrison the Nobel Prize in 1993. All the awards aside, Beloved is a testament to the horrors of slavery, with its narrative of suffering and repressed memory and its dedication to the more than 60 million who died in bondage. Here are some notable facts about Morrison’s process and the novel’s legacy.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

While compiling research for 1974's The Black Book, Morrison came across the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave from Kentucky who escaped with her husband and four children to Ohio in 1856. A posse caught up with Garner, who killed her youngest daughter and attempted to do the same to her other children rather than let them return to bondage. Once apprehended, her trial transfixed the nation. "She was very calm; she said, 'I’d do it again,'" Morrison told The Paris Review. "That was more than enough to fire my imagination."

2. MORRISON CAME UP WITH THE CHARACTER BELOVED AFTER SHE STARTED WRITING.

The book was originally going to be about the haunting of Sethe by her infant daughter, who she killed (just as Garner did) rather than allow her to return to slavery. A third of the way through writing, though, Morrison realized she needed a flesh-and-blood character who could judge Sethe’s decision. She needed the daughter to come back to life in another form (some interpret it as a grief-driven case of mistaken identity). As she told the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Magazine: "I thought the only person who was legitimate, who could decide whether [the killing] was a good thing or not, was the dead girl."

3. SHE WROTE THE ENDING EARLY IN THE WRITING PROCESS.

Morrison has said she likes to know the ending of her books early on, and to write them down once she does. With Beloved, she wrote the ending about a quarter of the way in. "You are forced into having a certain kind of language that will keep the reader asking questions," she told author Carolyn Denard in Toni Morrison: Conversations.

4. MORRISON BECAME FASCINATED WITH SMALL HISTORICAL DETAILS.

To help readers understand the particulars of slavery, Morrison carefully researched historical documents and artifacts. One particular item she became fascinated with: the "bit" that masters would put in slaves' mouths as punishment. She couldn’t find much in the way of pictures or descriptions, but she found enough to imagine the shame slaves would feel. In Beloved, Paul D. tells Sethe that a rooster smiled at him while he wore the bit, indicating that he felt lower than a barnyard animal.

5. SHE ONLY RECENTLY READ THE BOOK HERSELF.

In an appearance on The Colbert Report last year, Morrison said she finally got around to reading Beloved after almost 30 years. Her verdict: "It’s really good!"

6. THE BOOK INSPIRED READERS TO BUILD BENCHES.

When accepting an award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988, Morrison observed that there is no suitable memorial to slavery, "no small bench by the road." Inspired by this line, the Toni Morrison Society started the Bench by the Road Project to remedy the issue. Since 2006, the project has placed 15 benches in locations significant to the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which served as the point of entry for 40% of slaves brought to America.

7. WHEN BELOVED DIDN’T WIN THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN 1987, FELLOW WRITERS PROTESTED.

After the snub, 48 African-American writers, including Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., signed a letter that appeared in the New York Times Book Review. "For all of America, for all of American letters," the letter addressing Morrison read, "you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people."

8. IT’S ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY CHALLENGED BOOKS.

Between 2000 and 2009, Beloved ranked 26th on the American Library Association’s list of most banned/challenged books. A recent challenge in Fairfax County, Virginia, cited the novel as too intense for teenage readers, while another challenge in Michigan said the book was, incredibly, overly simplistic and pornographic. Thankfully, both challenges were denied.

9. MORRISON ALSO WROTE AN OPERA BASED ON GARNER’S LIFE.

Ten years ago, Morrison collaborated with Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour on Margaret Garner, an opera about the real-life inspiration behind Beloved. It opened in Detroit in 2005, and played in Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York before closing in 2008.

10. MORRISON DID NOT WANT IT MADE INTO A MOVIE.

Although she publicly claims otherwise, according to a New York magazine story, Morrison told friends she didn’t want Beloved made into a movie. And she didn’t want Oprah Winfrey (who bought the film rights in 1988) to be in it. Nevertheless, the film came out in 1998 and was a total flop.

11. THERE'S AN ILLUSTRATED VERSION.

The Folio Society, a London-based company that creates fancy special editions of classic books, released the first-ever illustrated Beloved in 2015. Artist Joe Morse had to be personally approved by Morrison for the project. Check out a few of his hauntingly beautiful illustrations here.

This article originally appeared in 2015.

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