The Ugly Truth About Amazon and Online Retailers

Permanently Temporary: The Truth About Temporary Labor

VICE News (2014)

Film Review

This is a shocking documentary about the seedy world of temporary warehouse workers who supply America’s big box retailers (eg Walmart, Kmart, Nestle), as well as online merchants such as Amazon. Because they’re technically contract labor employed by staffing agencies, workers have no employment rights. In addition to making minimum wage ($8 per hour), they can be dismissed for complaining about sexual harassment or workplace safety, talking to reporters or failing to use staffing agency vans to get to work. Filmmakers describe one incident in which a temporary worker was accidentally doused with acid and the warehouse refuse to call 911. In the end, a co-worker drove him to the hospital in his truck.

Seventy percent of US consumer goods are imported from overseas. They all end up in super warehouses, where temporary workers unpack, sort and repack and label them. At Christmas, Amazon fills 300 order per minute, all thanks to a vast army of temporary labor. Despite being referred to as “temporary,” some of these laborers have worked in the same warehouse as long as fifteen years.

Most of the temps interviewed in the film are fully aware they’re being maltreated but have no other job options. Since the 2008 downturn, the temp industry is America’s fastest growing industry. Streets in immigrant neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Chicago are lined with temporary staffing agencies. The latter prey on immigrants because they have limited English and tend to be naïve about their employment rights. In Chicago, vans called “raiteros” charge workers $8 each way for driving them to work, plus an additional charge for cashing their paychecks.

Since watching this video, I’ve opted to boycott Amazon (I boycotted Walmart and K-Mart several years ago). I hope others will, as well. I have absolutely no desire to help fuel this brutal exploitation. In future, I will stick with local, or at least New Zealand, retailers who don’t rely on sweatshop labor conditions to make a profit.

20 thoughts on “The Ugly Truth About Amazon and Online Retailers

  1. Talk about the seamy side of business. The companies could easily hire men and women in the same city where the facilities are located, but contract out for the savings on labor costs. Great post by Vice News.


    • I’m inclined to put it on the same level as prison labor – they pay you a lot less in prison, but at least you have a roof over your head and something to eat (even if it isn’t that good for you.) Temp workers can’t afford a place to live unless they work a 2nd job.


  2. I cannot believe that people were still unaware of the exploitation of these workers. I have never used Amazon. I’ve only been in Wal-Mart twice and that was because my mother insisted on me driving her there when the first Wal-Mart opened its doors many, many years ago.

    Just as I volunteered at different charities to expose their bad behavior, I also signed up at temp agencies such as Manpower, Addecco which used to be called, Adia before the merger. Also, I’ve temped for Olsten which was also acquired by the owners of Addecco which is owned by a Swiss company and a French company. What I found was atrocious. They put me to work at a warehouse that packaged pamphlets. Each pamphlet came down a conveyor belt in groups of 100. They had to be grabbed quickly and rubber banded together and placed in boxes. You could not sit down and the shift was a 10-hour shift. I developed carpal tunnel in my left wrist due to the repetitive motion. I went to the ER and told them that I had developed this while working for a temp agency. I was told that I would receive a bill for services rendered as the temp agency denied any responsibility as did the warehouse.

    I went to work in another warehouse that hired only female workers to sit at a table surrounded by straw and proceeded to make a ‘perfect’ straw bow that would then be placed on bottles of lotions, creams and the like. Next, I was sent to another warehouse where I had to stand up for 10 hours with only a half hour lunch break and two 15 minute breaks throughout the entire shift. I was standing on a concrete floor in front of a conveyor belt that was sending hygiene products down the line that had to be quickly grabbed and placed in a box, lid closed and deposited in a bigger box and the line had to keep moving. Not one of those temp jobs would have ever led to permanent hire. There were no benefits offered. No sick day leave.

    Here in Minnesota, we have a large Hispanic population and temp agencies heavily populate the areas that are known to have large concentrations of Hispanic people in them. We also have Somalis here and temp agencies are located in areas where they reside. Where I live, there are no temp agencies, not a single one in sight. When I lived in Minneapolis, I would walk past a temp agency every day and the agency had a school bus that would take the workers from the agency to these warehouses such as what was depicted in this video. The workers were, every single one, obviously, an immigrant and spoke little or no English.

    It is a shame that we sit back comfortably enjoying the ‘benefit’ of expedited goods coming to our door thanks in part to internet orders and a demand for ‘now, now, now’. We don’t really care about what must take place in order to satisfy our selfish demands. The mistreatment of the temp worker has been going on for decades. This is not something that just occurred, but we blindly ignore the truth even though we know that we are complicit in the exploitation of these poor workers.

    “Now, excuse me while I place an order since I am so unconcerned about the plight of others.” That is the general mindset.


    • Wow, Shelby. It’s almost like you could make your own documentary from your experiences temping. When you think of all this campus campaigns that boycott apparel made in 3rd world sweatshops, it’s really sad to think Americans are so oblivious to the treatment of workers in their own country.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on shelbycourtland and commented:
    So, this is how we get all of our lovely clothing and other goods because here we have the ‘permanently temporary’ permanently temping at $8 an hour. Now, how many of you would get up at 4:00a.m. to work for $8 an hour? Exactly! You’d scoff at that. But you don’t have a problem with others having to do what you would only scoff at. So, the next time you place an online order, at the very least, you could give a thought for these poor exploited workers. But then again, according to you, that’s their problem, isn’t it? Exactly!


  4. Reblogged this on 1EarthUnited and commented:
    For those who have limited opportunities in this economy, temp work may be the only source of income for immigrants, illegal or otherwise. This is predatory capitalism ppl, the only thing worse may be slavery in our prison system, where inmates “voluntarily” work for free. Sheesh! 😦


  5. I did two Christmas season as a picker at the Amazon warehouse in Fernley, NV. I did graveyards, so I got shift-diff and made $12.00/hr. Which, for the area at the time, really wasn’t that bad. No benefits of course through a staffing agency that you really had to watch to make sure they didn’t “accidentally” underpay you, but otherwise, I was treated fairly well. One time I even got a bit dehydrated and almost passed out and they came quickly and got me up to the office and asked if I needed anyone called. I just had some water and was okay, they wouldn’t let me go back that shift, but that is alright, didn’t want to be liable and all. The only BIG issue, that I hated and still think is BS, though the courts ruled in their favor…is that we’d have to clock out after our shift and THEN stand in an hour long line to get through security. Couldn’t leave, weren’t getting paid.


  6. I no longer purchase anything on line or from any of these companies.

    My x many years ago, had become aware of how these companies treat their employees in this country and others. It’s slavery, plain and simple.


      • I know, and this is sad!

        I should have been more specific in my comment. I would do business with a local company on line, a company I know of personally. I meant I don’t deal with corporate entities on or off line.

        Anyway, in my financial state, the brick and mortar businesses wouldn’t miss me if I did stop shopping on line completely: my body is broke and so is my wallet;-)


  7. According to sociologists, the trend is reversing. With no jobs in the cities, people are moving back to rural areas and getting involved in food production and local businesses where they actually produce something useful. The term for it is de-urbanization.


  8. Pingback: Amazon Recruits Homeless for Christmas Rush | The Most Revolutionary Act

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