The Cruel Irony of Amazon “Fulfillment Centers” CAN End. If…

John Oliver’s entertaining and horrifying report on Amazon’s so-called Fulfillment Centers was scathing, was very much needed, and nearly made me despair of humanity. But–there’s hope for at least some mitigation of the near-slavery conditions at these giant warehouses, if Amazon CEO and owner Bezos is shamed or sued into doing the right thing. Or–if we simply persuade him that the right thing is not really problematic for his bottom line. I have some suggestions for reorganizing the Amazon mega-warehouses they call “Fulfillment Centers”.

The Problem. The ironic label “Fulfillment Centers”–which sounds like an unwitting euphemism for erogenous zones–draws bitter laughter from those who’ve worked at these macroscopic rat mazes. Workers are under constant threat of being fired if they don’t keep up an unnaturally high rate of moving goods in the vast warehouse, where the oh-so-urgently needed items are scattered almost at random all over the enormous building. There is some effort at organization but not enough. Fetching from distant shelves is a process  done on foot, some people traipsing fifteen miles in a day. Some of them are elderly people. There really isn’t time to go to the bathroom, because you’ll fall behind on the required rate of package transportation and you’ll be fired (not a hollow threat). And you only took the job because you really, really needed the 15 dollars an hour. In some centers people have collapsed. The psychological pressure is as taxing as the physical stress. The breathless promise of hyperfast delivery to spoiled consumers means a constant push push push for faster faster faster. It’s worse than that, really–watch Oliver’s acidly funny if nightmarish report.

Common sense solutions occur to me, but they’ll require Bezos investing money in the remedies–and of course that’s an onerous burden on him since he’s merely a billionaire many times over and one of the richest men on the planet. Oh what the hell, I’ll offer them anyway.

Here’s the First idea: Bezos, shut down one center at a time (or sections of a center at a time). While the other centers or sections continue status quo, the designated one is reorganized so that items are more rigorously stored by type. One area is a series of hardware sections, each hardware section specializing as much as possible. Workers are reassigned or hired to take over each such center, one or two per each. They obtain the needed product with relative ease, and give it to a freight tram–little three wheeled things with small truck beds–whose driver trundles it along the wide aisles to the delivery people. No one then has to go on these epic warehouse hikes. Also,  build more localized bathrooms–an expense and a worthwhile tax deductible one…Rinse and repeat with every section, and every Fulfillment Center. Gosh that might use up half of one of Bezos’s many billions. He might have to do without …without, uh…nothing at all.

Second, adjust the speed of delivery requirements. Amazon often delivers with astounding rapidity. It doesn’t need that breathless speed to be an enormously profitable business. It’ll remain,  robustly driving independent bookstores and record stories and hardware stores and clothing shops out of business. Bezos will continue to make billions.

Third, pay a higher wage, hire more people, and offer real benefits. I’m all for unions but Bezos is hardcore anti-union. If he hires more people (to ease the burden on employees) and improve their pay and benefits, he won’t have to engage in union busting–people will be less inclined to try to unionize. It works at CostCo. But if he can’t bring himself to go that far, he could pretty much end the rising public condemnation if he takes steps one and two alone.

You’ll still be crazy rich if you take these steps, Jeff Bezos. You’ll continue to  have Everest-high piles of  cash for your Blue Origin space program–I’m truly all for space programs, yours included–and you’ll still be able to do pretty much anything else you damn please…

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