Don't take it personally
February 27, 2012 8:47 PM   Subscribe

"I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave: My brief, backbreaking, rage-inducing, low-paying, dildo-packing time inside the online-shipping machine"
posted by vidur (242 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
She never names the retailer, but could it be anybody *but* Amazon?
posted by mrbill at 8:57 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Single-page, non-mobile version.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:58 PM on February 27, 2012


I must you, you Americans really do seem to do capitalism quite appallingly well/badly.
posted by wilful at 8:59 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think one of the primary dilemmas in this scenario is the fact that it's often cheapest to shop online at Amazon. For many people without cars/transport (like students), shopping online is a godsend.

But to think I'm supporting such horrible labor conditions, under the guise of cheaper goods? I'm starting to think there's no way to win today.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 9:00 PM on February 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


I must you, you Americans really do seem to do capitalism quite appallingly well/badly.

Why you must us?? -Americans
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:03 PM on February 27, 2012 [40 favorites]


Holy shit.

I worked a requisite wage-slave job or two in high school and college and I thought standing on my feet for a 10-hour cash register shift was bad. I can't even imagine what it would feel like to do this day in, day out, with no light at the end of the tunnel.
posted by spitefulcrow at 9:04 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"You look way too happy," an Amalgamated supervisor says to me. He has appeared next to me as I work, and in the silence of the vast warehouse, his presence catches me by surprise. His comment, even more so.

"Really?" I ask.

"Well," the supervisor qualifies. "Just everybody else is usually really sad or mad by the time they've been working here this long."

the race to the bottom for everyone everywhere...
posted by ennui.bz at 9:05 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


America's largest 3PL, Exel, has 86 million square feet of warehouse in North America; it's a subsidiary of Deutsche Post DHL, which is cute because Deutsche Post is the German post office

So I think you actually want to must Germany.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:05 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


erm, must say, not must you.

Obvious really in context.

posted by wilful at 9:05 PM on February 27, 2012


I'm starting to think there's no way to win today.

Yes. "Now I feel like crap about things I've ordered lately with Amazon Prime".
posted by mrbill at 9:06 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


drjimmy11, you appear to be trying to pick a fight. If you think that Deutsche Post provides anything like those conditions to their German workers, you're wrong.
posted by wilful at 9:07 PM on February 27, 2012


Olive-oil mister. Male libido enhancement pills. Rifle strap. Who the fuck buys their paper towels off the internet? Fairy calendar. Neoprene lunch bag.

It's pretty amazing that Amazon can actually manage to stock and sell all this shit, and still make money.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:09 PM on February 27, 2012


Amazon can actually manage to stock and sell all this shit, and still make money

I'm guessing a ton of it is "Sold by XYZ, order fulfillment by Amazon". They're making money by providing the item through their storefront, and then charging the seller for warehouseing and order fulfillment as well is my buest guess.
posted by mrbill at 9:13 PM on February 27, 2012


God, it's possitively Dickensian... A good example of entropy:

We run past each other and if we do say something, we say it as we keep moving. "How's the job market?" a supervisor says, laughing, as several of us newbies run by. "Just kidding!" Ha ha! "I know why you guys are here. That's why I'm here, too!" At another near collision between employees, one wants to know how complaining about not being able to get time off went and the other spits that he was told he was lucky to have a job. This is no way to have a conversation, but at least conversations are not forbidden, as they were in the Ohio warehouse I reported on—where I saw a guy get fired for talking, specifically for asking another employee, "Where are you from?" So I'm allowed the extravagance of smiling at a guy who is always so unhappy and saying, "How's it goin'?"
posted by KokuRyu at 9:13 PM on February 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


Don't worry, pretty soon all those jobs will be done by robots and those people will be unemployed.
posted by planet at 9:13 PM on February 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


I have no idea what conditions Deutsch Post provides and I am not trying to pick a fight. But if they own the company discussed here they are ultimately responsible.

Which is not to say American-owned companies don't do the same thing- they definitely do.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:13 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


The exhaustion at the end of the day is the real problem here. In a few years these people will be replaced by robots, and I don't think many of them are finding the time right now to prepare for a different line of work.
posted by michaelh at 9:14 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Shit. Can I put a special instruction like "take your time, I don't need these comics that bad"?

I've got to imagine there is a way for them to eliminate all the running around, maybe it is more expensive to operate a more complex automation system than to hire people right now. In the not to distant future these people will be replaced by giant roombas.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:18 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


What struck me about the article (and the reason why I posted it here) was that this is an insider account of working conditions that exist in a certain industry in the US. I've never read this sort of vivid descriptions of conditions inside, say, Chinese factories. Dry statistics, sure. But the narrative conveys a horror that's beyond numbers.
posted by vidur at 9:18 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Even though supposedly we're so over him because of RSI, I can't help but think this guy could fix the speed problems with the books and some of the other problems while also reducing stress and strain.
posted by michaelh at 9:21 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


But if they own the company discussed here they are ultimately responsible.

Some countries don't suppress organised labour quite as well as the US governments do.
posted by wilful at 9:22 PM on February 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


Serious question: why can't robots do this?
posted by melissam at 9:22 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did 4 years and one day in a certain warehouse. Overtime was mandatory, up to 84 hours/week, up to 100 days straight, no time off. Summers were bad; you get entirely sweat-soaked from head to toe, boots included, within the first half hour. Winters were worse, especially if you get sick.
posted by rahnefan at 9:24 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Some days I believe that the wealthy are conspiring to keep me a communist.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:25 PM on February 27, 2012 [30 favorites]


Robot Roomba pickers, a TED talk.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:25 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Are you packing a dildo, or are you just happy to see me?
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:32 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Serious question: why can't robots do this?

Robots cost more.
posted by asperity at 9:33 PM on February 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


*drums fingers on table*

Yeah yeah yeah, boo hoo hoo, we get it, this is all well and good but where's them got-durned books I ordered?
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:33 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Serious question: why can't robots do this?

Why invest in developing robots, when people are cheap and getting cheaper? Think like a capitalist...
posted by ennui.bz at 9:33 PM on February 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


Serious question: why can't robots do this?

I am honestly guessing right now it is more expensive to install the systems and pay for electricity to run the robots and provide cooling than to hire people.

This happens more often than you with think. I see situations all the time where it is cheaper to have people do things by hand than it is to hire people to develop a system to automate it. Employees have to be making more than a certain amount before it makes sense to automate them out.

I saw a situation once where it was cheaper to pay full time employees to fold trifolds than to buy a machine.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:34 PM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Zappos uses robots. It's pretty awesome to watch.
posted by the jam at 9:47 PM on February 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


And THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is why this college dropout with a criminal record chooses to wait tables.

At a restaurant, it might be a bunch of managerial doublespeak and psychodrama once a week, but once I'm on the floor, it's me and the guest. And, yes, I CAN take another table. On the other side of the room. Try me. I'll sell a bottle of Chateauneuf-de-Pape before you've had time to adjust your tighty whities.

Ask me to manage the place, though?

Fuck you. More hours for less pay.

We all have to make our way in the world. Sometimes I wish we could just burn it down and start over. Then I get a new TV from Amazon shipped to my house for free for hundreds less than I'd pay elsewhere, and I slide back into the soothing narcosis of Xbox in 1080p.

I know I'm part of the problem. But I await the call to man the barricades.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:49 PM on February 27, 2012 [40 favorites]


As does Soap.com.
posted by the jam at 9:49 PM on February 27, 2012


Serious question: why can't robots do this?

She mentioned having to open a box that had 2 items when one was required; also looking through many small items in a bin. Still not impossible but more complicated than just shelves line d with boxes. I imagine there are other little exceptions that require human judgement once in a while.
posted by rainy at 9:50 PM on February 27, 2012


The nice thing about the mobile and single-page links is that they avoid the shitty popunder malware ads.

Fuck motherjones' ad-selling department, and everyone in it.

posted by b1tr0t at 9:54 PM on February 27, 2012


Zappos is an interesting company.

There is a legend that some vendors were in town for meetings, they were in the office late at night and didn't know any place they could get food delivered. One of them jokingly suggested they call Zappos customer service and ask for pizza delivery. The Zappos execs jumped at it and had the vendor pull out his cell phone and call customer service. The rep gave him the names and phone numbers of several pizza places that were still open.

There is another legend that someone called for a pair of shoes that was out of stock. Zappos called all the shoe stores local to the customer and sent someone out to buy the shoes at the mall and bring them to the customer.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:00 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


The intrepid Mac is awesome!
posted by Bwithh at 10:02 PM on February 27, 2012


In case of Zappos, it's a lot easier to automate because everything is already packed in boxes of similar size. Warehouse she was reporting about, as well as Amazon and other large ones have many different sized and shaped items that are packed together, they try to save as much space as they can, to use fewer/smaller boxes.

Often they still do use more packaging than you'd expect. When I got a sterilite plastic shelving unit, it was packed into two cardboard boxes with some packing paper. One box would be enough. They're gray plastic utility shelves, I can't imagine anyone caring if they get a ding or a scratch on them.. When I ordered a set of 4 glasses for about $40, they were packed the same way, and one broke!
posted by rainy at 10:06 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


She mentioned having to open a box that had 2 items when one was required; also looking through many small items in a bin.

The way the Zapos and Soap.com's Kiva systems work is that the shelves move and the pickers stand in one place. Bringing a bin with small items or a box you need to open is totally doable.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:07 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The race to the bottom continues apace, and people's lives get ground up by it. The only reason this kind of thing hasn't already gone offshore to China and the like, along with all the other work-intensive low-pay zero-security wage-slave labour that isn't direct customer service is the cost of shipping and the need-it-right-now attitudes of North American consumers. Takes to long to get product from the suburbs of Shanghai into the hands of a Connecticut dildo-afficionado.

You know I really thought that the whole Occupy thing was going to metastasize there last year, that the justifiable rage that people are beginning to feel at being bilked out of any kind of sustainable or happy, healthy life by the rich, by the corporations they own and invest in, and by the political 'leaders' who serve the wealthy was actually going to well up and it'd be torches and pitchforks time. I really was hoping that they really would wake up and burn it down, at least some of it, enough to put the Fear into the oligarchs and their lapdogs.

But it seems like maybe not. It's a pity, because with each swing of the pendulum, more territory that once seemed unthinkable -- at least for a few affluent decades there in the latter half of the 20th century in America -- and consigned to the bad old days comes into the ambit of 'just the way things are'.

There are so many snapshots from a broken system on the wall, and so many people living on the verge of disaster every single day, that it is amazing to me that nothing really shows much sign of changing.

But that's the way it was designed -- to keep people scrabbling for a living, scared, distracted and provided with just enough shiny toys and soma to keep them in their living rooms and off the streets.

Not far off the mark, all that dystopian fiction we read when we were young and too confident that everyone else was paying attention, too.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:09 PM on February 27, 2012 [47 favorites]


Ad hominem, fair point, but they'd have to manage weight more carefully than Zappos. Those robots actually pick up a shelve unit, balance it on top, drive around rather slowly; both total weight of the shelf rack and weight distribution would be harder to handle.

When I thought of automation I imagined robots that look like forklifts driving around and picking single boxes out of shelves.. they would be able to move much faster and pick up heavy boxes, and less work for packers. I wonder why they didn't do that, or if some other companies do something like that.
posted by rainy at 10:11 PM on February 27, 2012


The Mother Jones title for this piece is much better, "Shelf Lives." I was expecting an overdramatic or lighthearted story with this title. Instead, it's a decent piece of labor writing. I wonder how long until we'll start having Foxconn-style factory/warehouse suicides. Are they teaching Engels and Eherenreich in business schools as "how to" manuals or something?
posted by Locobot at 10:12 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Serious question: why can't robots do this?

Henry Ford's showing the UAW around the new automated auto plant, right, and points to all the robots and says, "So, guys, how are you going to get all these robots to pay union dues?" Union boss says, “I'm not sure, Henry, how are you going to get them to buy all the cars?”

Except as other people have pointed out above these poor people are actually, you know, cheaper than robots and easier to replace.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:13 PM on February 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


You know I really thought that the whole Occupy thing was going to metastasize there last year, that the justifiable rage that people are beginning to feel at being bilked out of any kind of sustainable or happy, healthy life by the rich, by the corporations they own and invest in, and by the political 'leaders' who serve the wealthy was actually going to well up and it'd be torches and pitchforks time.

I think you'll need some kind of online shopping system for ordering the torches and pitchforks. Catch-22!

But seriously, yeah, it amazes me too. Part of me is glad that things aren't being burnt down, and part of me keeps wondering "why not?"
posted by vidur at 10:13 PM on February 27, 2012


The problem with writing dystopias is someone reads them and goes Hey, thats actually a good idea....
posted by The Whelk at 10:15 PM on February 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


I have this creeping feeling the summer is going to be big if the general assemblies can regroup fast enough.
posted by The Whelk at 10:16 PM on February 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


That's really how 85-90% of the world works and lives. I can't help but imagine that hunter-gatherer epoch was the last time majority of people lived better lives, despite dangers and hunger.
posted by rainy at 10:18 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


it'd be torches and pitchforks time

I was never clear on how that happens without guns. Don't Occupy advocates in general hate/sneer at gun owners, farmers, rednecks, NRA members, libertarians, constitutionalists etc.? Are they expecting Soros to arm them?
posted by michaelh at 10:20 PM on February 27, 2012


Dunno guys, I watched that Victorian Kitchen Garden series posted the other day and I don't think digging or washing pots in the freezing cold sounds any better.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:22 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


mrbill: "She never names the retailer, but could it be anybody *but* Amazon?"

As noted in the article, there are a lot of other companies in the same space.

What infuriates me even more than choosing to overwork people instead of employ a few more and charge a few more cents per product is that they refuse to lay out the warehouse ergonomically and do something about the shelving shocking the fucking employees.

Treating your employees like shit is one thing, but ruining their health is another thing entirely.
posted by wierdo at 10:24 PM on February 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Don't Occupy advocates in general hate/sneer at gun owners, farmers, rednecks, NRA members, libertarians, constitutionalists etc.? Are they expecting Soros to arm them?

...This was not the first time Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party members have met. But it was among the first such meetings to be held with a stated objective of determining whether the two groups might cooperate on certain common issues.

It's almost like walls erected by rich powerful people to divide poor disenfranchised people are slowly collapsing, or something.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:25 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Man I remember when the civil rights movement just got like all these sick Ak 47s and just gunned down a whole squad of Birmingham cops it was like totally sweet brah.
posted by The Whelk at 10:27 PM on February 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


It's almost like walls erected by rich powerful people to divide poor disenfranchised people are slowly collapsing, or something.

Neat. You participate in meetings like this also, I take it?

Man I remember when the civil rights movement just got like all these sick Ak 47s and just gunned down a whole squad of Birmingham cops it was like totally sweet brah.

I think civil disobedience is a better idea as well, but since violence was brought up this practical point might as well be raised.
posted by michaelh at 10:30 PM on February 27, 2012


Treating your employees like shit is one thing, but ruining their health is another thing entirely.

Nah, that's just good business. They've got people lining up for jobs.

You break a few, well, what the fuck? Shuffle them off to the taxpayer in the form of Social Security disability.

Fuck 'em. We're a "right to work" state!

(I will now stop commenting because alcohol has hit ire and I just wanna kill people.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:31 PM on February 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


I wonder what happens to the people who are fired... where do they end up? In a homeless shelter?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:35 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The added benefit is when people do get a marginally better job, they keep quiet and don't complain even if it's quite terrible. That's the only way to create a tens of millions-strong workforce that will accept almost any kind of treatment because they've seen worse. If the companies didn't have jobs like that, they'd have to invent them as a kind of, you know, vocational training.
posted by rainy at 10:38 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Serious question: why can't robots do this?

Because robots are cost-effective only in the long term. The payoff of installing robots could take, jeez, years. A decade! Profits have to go up next quarter, by Jove, come hell or highwater. Don't you get it?? We need more profit, and soon! Who cares about five years from now, the Rapture's gonna take all us believers up any day now, but in the meantime we need that profit, see? And the way the economy is, we can keep the conditions and pay as total shit and people will still beat each other up to get the job. If someone doesn't toe the line, it'll be easy to fire and replace them.

Signed,

The Job Creators
posted by zardoz at 10:46 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Articles like this make me want to unionize the shit out of things. Or at least attend my union's next monthly meeting.
posted by redsparkler at 10:49 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


And definitely listen to a couple rounds of "Solidarity Forever."
posted by redsparkler at 10:51 PM on February 27, 2012


"no human hands touch the coupons until they are opened up at home" Valpak on their automated facility that produces 40 Billion coupons a year. Turn around time reduced from 4 days to 4 hrs.
posted by HappyHippo at 10:52 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


To quote a friend's leg tattoo, Solidarity Motherfucker.
posted by The Whelk at 10:54 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"no human hands touch the coupons until they are opened up at home" Valpak on their automated facility that produces 40 Billion coupons a year. Turn around time reduced from 4 days to 4 hrs.

If only I can get a robot to move the valkpak mailing from my mailbox into the recycle bin.
posted by birdherder at 10:55 PM on February 27, 2012 [28 favorites]


To quote a friend's leg tattoo, Solidarity Motherfucker.

Solidarity Motherfucker was Neal Stephenson's first-draft name for Hiro Protagonist in Snow Crash, before he swapped the character's gender, I heard.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:58 PM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Is Snow Crash slowly becoming non-fiction?
posted by steamynachos at 11:01 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


If only I can get a robot to move the valkpak mailing from my mailbox into the recycle bin.

It's even a little more automatic than that.
posted by michaelh at 11:03 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


What if I want to vote?" I ask a supervisor. "I think you should!" he says. "But if I leave I'll get fired," I say. To which he makes a sad face before saying, "Yeah."

Exactly, disenfranchisement. I mean they can vote, but they get fired if they do. Those are stark choices. Meanwhile, the Republican 'debates' are about Planned Parenthood funding and Romney making $10k bets, and church rights n shit. Where IS the USA labor movement?
posted by honey-barbara at 11:07 PM on February 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


The US government is equally guilty. One of my relatives tells the same quota stories of filing for the IRS during tax season. The job only lasts four or five months, and every year she winds up wearing a back brace and seeing a neurologist for two or three months after the season is over.
posted by Ardiril at 11:09 PM on February 27, 2012


"Inside Amalgamated, an employee's first day is training day. Though we're not paid to be here until 6, we have been informed that we need to arrive at 5. If we don't show up in time to stand around while they sort out who we are and where they've put our ID badges, we could miss the beginning of training, which would mean termination."

This reminds me of about five years ago, when I was working for a well-to-do chain of five star hotels; I was part of a group of women, most of whom were single mothers, who started off as housekeepers the day it opened.

It was a pleasant place in the beginning, with managers telling us that we would be taken care of, and that we'd have a say in what was going on, and sure enough--it was. We'd start at eight, and continue 'til about one, with a break in the middle in which almost everyone had a ciggie. We'd arrive on time, and depart on the hour.

Until things weren't going too well.

Soon, we were told,

"When we say eight o'clock start, we mean that you have to be ready, at the door of the first room at eight. You have to set up your trolleys and have everything ready by then."

"So, you mean, we start at 7:30? We get paid?" I asked, because mostly it was my second job, and I could afford to lose it.

"No, you come in on your own time."

I organised everyone to not do this, and stand firm on it being 8, because otherwise who knows what else they'd start saying we "had" to do.

It became "stay until we'd cleared all the trolleys", unpaid, of course. Some women wavered on this, clearly thinking they'd lose their job if they didn't, but I kept pressing them--if we stood together, all of us, they couldn't fire us ALL at once. I talked really hard to get them behind this, and it worked.

They started cracking down on other things. Suddenly our break was timed down to the second. We were being timed on the rooms--no more than 15 minutes each, and anyone who's ever done housekeeping knows that sometimes you walk into one and it'll take you half an hour to do, but no matter, no excuses.

Around then they started sending people home when they rocked up, if they didn't think they needed them, even when they put them on contract to save some money. In Australia, even if you're casual, they have to give you warning of two hours--if you turn up to a shift they have to let you work three hours, minimum. (I know my workplace laws.) Did they not like this when I pointed it out to management.

"We need a union," I told my co-workers. "Look, things are just going to get worse. I'll do the work, get the union in. Do you agree?"

I organised it all, and had a time for a rep to come around to talk to us all and sign us up. I told them at lunchtime the next day, including one of the women who'd been newly promoted, because, you know, she was ONE OF US! From the beginning!

Anyway, I got fired :)

(I don't know the rest of the story, but they didn't get unionised, and probably didn't stop demanding more from everyone.)

BASICALLY. Unions. They're there for a reason. People are scared to lose minimum-wage jobs, because when we work them it's because we need to make the rent, the bills, whatever. It's not because of a bloody choice, especially not in some tiny little town where jobs are at a premium. And employers know this, and even the likes of my brother, whom I love dearly, is a complete arsehole to his staff in the interests of saving money, and will stiff them any which way he can. EVEN MY DAD stiffed me when I worked for him.

Something about becoming an employer makes people into complete tossers. I don't know. Unions keep them honest.
posted by owlrigh at 11:10 PM on February 27, 2012 [104 favorites]


I have some suggestions for these workers, which will improve their lot immensely!

1. Start Now
2. Make Deadlines
3. Keep Your Legs Moving
4. Don’t Confuse Content & Medium
5. Be Authentic
6. Follow Your Passion
7. Focus on Great Work
8. Connect with People You Like
9. Own What You Create
10. Find the Money
11. Build a Community
12. DO A GOOD JOB
posted by maxwelton at 11:10 PM on February 27, 2012 [58 favorites]


Shuffle them off to the taxpayer in the form of Social Security disability.

That depends on whether the employee has actually met the minimum employment periods and paid in sufficient deductions.
posted by Ardiril at 11:14 PM on February 27, 2012


Remember that Ursula K. Leguin story about a paradise whose dark secret is that the price of paradise is that a single child is kept in unimaginable torment and misery? How about, instead of unimaginable torment and misery, it's totally imaginable torment and misery? And instead of a single child, it's a sizable portion of your population? And instead of paradise, it's slightly cheaper consumer goods and free shipping in 3-5 days?
posted by mhum at 11:19 PM on February 27, 2012 [94 favorites]


Sounds like she hates her job and should quit.

Next week: Some other low wage unskilled job completely sucks.
posted by colinshark at 11:21 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


maxwelton, you are evil, but you did make me laugh. It was a sad, angry laugh, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:23 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, though, this colinshark guy just sounds like a bit of a dick.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:24 PM on February 27, 2012 [25 favorites]


stavrosthewonderchicken: It will be okay.
posted by colinshark at 11:36 PM on February 27, 2012


Of course it will be okay! It's not slavery!


Yet.
posted by jrochest at 11:38 PM on February 27, 2012


stavrosthewonderchicken: It will be okay.

I hope you're right, man. I have my doubts.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:42 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


the comment section alone is worth a read
posted by khappucino at 11:50 PM on February 27, 2012


the comment section alone is worth a read - The same old predictable forecasts of gloom and doom...
posted by Ardiril at 11:55 PM on February 27, 2012


maxwelton, you are evil, but you did make me laugh. It was a sad, angry laugh, though.

It's dickish of me, to be sure, but this article meshes so nicely with that one; trying to imagine any of these poor souls finding enough energy to even have a passion is beyond me.
posted by maxwelton at 11:56 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


the comment section alone is worth a read - The same old predictable forecasts of gloom and doom...
Exactly! I love it
posted by khappucino at 12:00 AM on February 28, 2012


heheh, you are kindred.
posted by Ardiril at 12:17 AM on February 28, 2012


Maybe (probably?) I'm just a naive liberal, but my takeaway from this is that this is exactly the situation unions are supposed to exist for. I mean, if we replaced these jobs with robots, then what jobs would these workers have? Having a shitty job that makes your miserable and ruins your body is (at least marginally) better than having no job, no home, and no way to feed yourself or you children. Inhumane sweatshops like these were the reason unions came to be in the first place. Obviously, you can't just snap your fingers and make a functional union that successfully advocates for humane working conditions exist, but that seems like a better goal than robots to me.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:30 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jobs like the ones described in the article can't be outsourced. The jobs exist to provide rapid order delivery to American consumers. Moving it overseas makes things complicated because of customs clearing issues, which adds to the cost. Obviously the mega retailer management and stockholders are making money. So the issue is redistributing it. Mega warehouses/shipping points are ideal for unionization because they are vulnerable. It's not just online retailers that depend on these types of warehouses-- even brick and mortar stores do the same. If you go to the outskirts of major suburban areas you will see distribution centers for companies like Walgreens and Safeway. They put them there because of proximity to rail and highway junctions, as well as cheap land.

They are vulnerable because they don't keep much inventory on hand and depend on "just in time" delivery/shipping. Therefore, the workers in the warehouses have a lot of power if they were to organize they could cost the mega corp millions of dollars through work slowdowns, stoppages. But to do that people have to develop a common orientation wherein they believe that they can win, and that organizing is possible.

I know that Occupy has helped out with some labor stuff. On the West Coast, there was of course the Port Shutdown, which was a huge thing. There have also been some smaller actions in the SF Bay Area. Occupy Oakland went out to Union City ('burbs) to a licorice factory, and last weekend Occupy Oakland went out to a country club in Pleasanton ('burbs) to help picket. I know the workers from the country club asked Occupy to be there, because I was at the GA weeks ago when they first came down to ask for support.

One of the big things I've been thinking about lately in terms of organizing/common orientations is the necessity of fatalism. The corporate culture of America pushes this happy shiny "can do" attitude to people, and promises that if they adopt it they will thrive. We see in the Mother Jones article how pathological that is, especially with the workampers. These are senior citizens whose bodies physically will lack the recovery ability to keep up with younger workers in all but the most genetically gifted cases. Eventually they'll work themselves to death, and I would almost guarantee that the data exists inside the mega corp about deaths on the job, etc. You could probably run the numbers and figure out exactly how much work you could get out of a person before they drop dead.

In the face of this kind of exploitation, losing hope that one can meet the goals and have a decent life is probably the most important thing to overcoming people's fear of consequences for organizing. Here one narrative:

"You're doomed. It's only a matter of time. So if you're going to be doomed, then you might as well take the only chance you have of getting a better life. You might as well join in with other people who are also getting screwed, and seize the power for yourself, if only for a moment. Some people will tell you that abandoning so-called positive thinking and realizing that you're doomed is a bad thing. But I say it's a good thing because it is only then that the threats of others fall away, and only then that you can really do what you have to do to really live."
posted by wuwei at 12:41 AM on February 28, 2012 [19 favorites]


THIS is what communism is for -

I'm moving to China
posted by the noob at 12:54 AM on February 28, 2012


One major obstacle in organizing such a site as this is the warehouse is not the employer. The staff is virtually all temps, and most likely from at least a half dozen different agencies. The "common orientation" of working under the same roof is an illusion. One whiff of organization and the warehouse "fires" an entire agency to set an example for those remaining, who then get a few days of overtime pay as the replacements are brought up to speed.
posted by Ardiril at 12:55 AM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Come to think of it, the management of the warehouse itself is probably through an agency and the "owners" are in fact a disposable shell corporation.
posted by Ardiril at 12:58 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


(And also forget about Election Day, which is today. "What if I want to vote?" I ask a supervisor. "I think you should!" he says. "But if I leave I'll get fired," I say. To which he makes a sad face before saying, "Yeah.")
Is this legal in the US?

wierdo writes "What infuriates me even more than choosing to overwork people instead of employ a few more and charge a few more cents per product is that they refuse to lay out the warehouse ergonomically and do something about the shelving shocking the fucking employees."

It's crazy that this place isn't properly air conditioned with humidity control to cut down on the shocking. Especially the 95 degree summer temps should be right out illegal in this sort of space where their isn't any need for heat stroke inducing temperatures.

Also the lack of sufficient wash rooms and secure break room storage would seem to be self defeating for the company.

I wonder what the job filling the pick bins is like.
posted by Mitheral at 1:44 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sounds like she hates her job and should quit.

Next week: Some other low wage unskilled job completely sucks.


The acceptance of the idea that unskilled labor should be low-paying and awful, and that this is okay in any way, makes me physically fucking ill.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:48 AM on February 28, 2012 [50 favorites]


I have had a suspicion, for a while, that I may be one of the first (although perhaps not the actual chronological first, then at least amongst the first cohort) of those against the Wall when the Revolution comes.

That has not worried me, overly, because conditions generally, although tending to poor, are not yet dire.

Lately though, I have an increasingly worrying suspicion that the Revolution may be coming a little sooner than we expected.

Experiences like those in the warehouse seem increasingly common- its not just dissatisfaction with the current system that is being expressed in more fervid and more wildly held views, but actual fear and hatred of the current system is starting to show publicly. There is a sense, to me at least, of things starting to boil over.

Of course, by itself, that is nothing: without some catalyst the Revolution will always remain just a violent dream.

Until August 2013, that is - previously:
posted by Plutocratte at 1:48 AM on February 28, 2012


Previously, previously- (how does one work this link thing?)

http://www.metafilter.com/106714/The-Food-Riots-of-2013
posted by Plutocratte at 1:51 AM on February 28, 2012


I worked a similar job for a year but we also had fire, sharp things, and a staff (including the managers) who were usually high or really wishing they were high.

Yeah, not good to be under a 2-ton industrial steel mold and have your co-worker on the computer ask you if you had any spare Vicodin.
posted by bardic at 1:54 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


select the text you want to be a link, then click "link", then plop the URL in the box, and you'll wind up with linked text
posted by telstar at 2:08 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you think that Deutsche Post provides anything like those conditions to their German workers, you're wrong.

Deutsche Post was privatised already in 1995. It's a listed company and the German government only a minority shareholder. It's also a major user of so-called Minijobs.

Deutsche Post did lobby very strongly in favour of a minimum wage for postal sector employees (there is no countrywide minimum wage in Germany). However, this was not at all out of concern for their employees' welfare, but because new competitors in the German market were paying considerably less than what Deutsche Post had to pay to its "legacy" workforce. By driving overall wage costs upwards, Deutsche Post successfully scuppered those pesky new entrants.

Also, its former CEO was caught hiding a significant amount of cash in Liechtenstein. He got away with a significant fine, but no jail.
posted by Skeptic at 3:01 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have had a suspicion, for a while, that I may be one of the first (although perhaps not the actual chronological first, then at least amongst the first cohort) of those against the Wall when the Revolution comes.

And I will be in the vanguard - leading the first waves into the breaches!

"Follow me! Follow me!"

I hope you have good taste, Plutocratte, and that you taste good. Because we are going to take your stuff, kill you, and eat you.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:08 AM on February 28, 2012


Experiences like those in the warehouse seem increasingly common

Most likely this is another instance of internet illusion; nothing much has changed except the broader dissemination of information.
posted by Ardiril at 3:18 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


michaelh: "Even though supposedly we're so over him because of RSI, I can't help but think this guy could fix the speed problems with the books and some of the other problems while also reducing stress and strain."

You know how she writes about her gun telling her how long it will take to get to a location where she has a pick? How she has a productivity goal and her managers tell her the exact percentage she is working at? These things are based on time motion studies done as part of a program of scientific management. That stuff about reducing stress and strain is mostly bullshit. The industrial engineers are there to reduce the amount of money that management spends on labor. If the work gets done in less time, then profit margins are higher. Because if three employees are each 33% faster, one employee immediately gets fired. Because they only keep enough manpower on hand to do exactly the amount of work needed.

I have been a temp at a warehouse since 2008. They lay me off 3 months a year so they won't have to provide any benefits. They time our breaks to the second. The break starts before you leave your station, and it takes up to five minutes of walking to get to the break room. You need to be back at your station before the break is over. That's up to ten minutes of a fifteen minute break spent walking to and from the fucking break room.

What was funny about reading that article was her focus on the demoralizing insistence that she was not meeting the efficiency standards. I usually don't meet the efficiency standards. Most people in my department don't. We know this because every day our percentages are all posted for everyone to see. Not only that, but we've all been failing to meet expectations our entire lives. I got B's but mostly C's in elementary school. By the time I was in highschool I was getting C's but mostly D's. I have no higher education and no marketable skills. Most of the people who work where I do would tell a similar story. When you've been consistently failing for so long, it doesn't really mean much to fail again. As long as you still have a job at least. So we get our weekly lecture about how we aren't any good at our jobs and we have to try harder and we nod and say OK and go back to another week of the same old shit.
posted by idiopath at 3:24 AM on February 28, 2012 [46 favorites]


I can't help but think this guy could fix the speed problems with the books and some of the other problems while also reducing stress and strain.

Probably not at all what he intended, but every time I have seen a time-motion study done, it was used to increase the amount of work needed to make a piece-work rate. If you don't know what I'm talking about, look here. One instance sticks in my mind: I was working on a chair-upholstering line when they showed up to do their study. They picked Jack to videotape as he upholstered one chair. Jack was a former gymnast, very strong, quick, and balanced, but not extremely bright. When they turned on the camera, he became a blur, finishing the chair in record time. Sadly, no medal for this event. Instead, the rate was increased to the point that no one, not even Jack, could meet it, and our wages declined.

Management will almost always take any opportunity they can get to wring another penny's worth of production out of their workers, regardless of the toll on said workers. Absent a miraculous change in human nature, the answer is unions.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:29 AM on February 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


Some sort of revolution seems sadly inevitable. If not from this sort of thing, then from the pressures of dealing with millions of environmental refugees that we have in our near future, or the point at which fuel and food price leave people actually unable to feed their kids, or from inability to deal with the social shift that will turn on the exposure of the end of American hegemony or or or...

But the real point is this. Revolutions are nasty things, but the sooner we change our system, stripping power from masters whose capacity for greed and exploitation of workers both here and in the developing world has grown beyond all sense or sanity, the less people will get killed in the process.

There's one door and one window out of this room. We might have to kick down the door, which is bad, but the alternative is jumping out the window. How long does the drop look to you?
posted by howfar at 3:41 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kirth Gerson: "every time I have seen a time-motion study done, it was used to increase the amount of work needed to make a piece-work rate."

yeah, they always watch the fast guy (and the fast guy goes super fast because of the attention) and then everyone is held to that as if it were the minimum baseline.
posted by idiopath at 3:42 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know much about these things, besides 1) living by my own personal principle of shopping local whenever possible, and 2) having worked extensively with Chinese factories last year.

On the first point, it's a decision that each individual in society must come to terms with -- what kind of world would you like to live in? When the Wal-Mart wars were going on in Los Angeles in the late 90s, early 00s, the argument was that Wal-Mart destroys main street, which it does.

Yet ultimately, the "problem" rests on the demand side equally as the supply side. During the Wal-Mart wars, I never understood why people felt compelled to shop there. "Because a 12-pack of Coke is 75 cents less than at the Ralphs." That's a decision the consumer is actively making, that they're own happiness is more important than the happiness of the community.

I shop for books at a place in London called Foyles. Granted, I get less product for £20 at Foyles than I would at Amazon, but that's not the point. I like Foyles, and if I want to see that big beautiful Foyles on Charing Cross Road stay in business, then it's on me to shop there.

It's similar to watching Wal-Mart shoppers that I have seen in Reno, Neveda. People who are already overweight taking massive boxes of food out of the store, having maximised their dollar. No one commanded them to maximise their dollar. There is the option of consuming less Coke for the same price.

In b-school, my focus was social and environmental sustainability. I remember a conversation the second day with one of the guiding lights of the field.

"If you're going to go this direction, you need to understand the nuances. What is the difference between organic and fair-trade?"

I knew fair-trade was a greater commercial selling point in Europe, because the food was already set to a higher standard than the US, thus organic held less of a brand cache.

"No."

Okay, apparently I didn't know that.

"Both are considered to be luxury labeling. Organic is about you consuming something better for yourself. Organic food can -- and is -- produced in sweatshop working conditions. Fair trade is about someone else and them being treated appropriately.

"If you have two items on the shelf, one is organic, and one is fair-trade, and they are the same price. Each is 10% more expensive than the standard retail equivelent. In the case of organic, that 10% goes to you, for you are eating something you perceive as cleaner and more healthy. In the case of fair trade, that 10% goes to the supplier, for you are making the statement that their happiness and value is a key driver of your purchasing."

I've never forgotten that lesson; and it's highly relevant in the discussion about discounted value chains. There is a reason Amazon is cheaper than Foyles. Part of it has to do with economies of scale, and part of it has to do with value transfer. If you want the cheapest Coke possible, it's going to be at Wal-Mart. By purchasing that Coke at Wal-Mart, one is de facto making the statement it is more important for them to consume at any external cost to their community than it is to be part of a proper community.

And I realise times are tough, people have children, it's more convenient. All the arguements make rational and emotional sense. However, when I fell on hard times and really needed to watch spending, I continued frequenting local shops. I did not go for the cheapest things that I could find. I did not go to Wal-Mart. I went to the local grocer and I paid more. I ate less.

And that is a choice we all can make.

It was buckwild in the worst way possible a few years ago, for I worked by day doing alcohol marketing strategy, and in the evenings worked at a community service centre, where a large proportion of the chaps had received DUIs. It was fascinating to listen to the guys in the evening speak, for they were repeating the messages that we (the marketing industry) had built into ad camapaigns for well over a generation. "Alcohol tells you it's a good time." "Alcohol is how you know who your friends are." Granted these chaps had trouble with alcohol, but they had absorbed the messaging completely. The alcohol industry pairs alcohol with happiness in every opportunity possible, with the subtext that whenever joy is appropriate, so is a glass of x. In our research, there was always the question of if the messages were making it out.

Yes, mofos, the messages are making it out. That I can tell you with confidence. Similarly, the American focus of maximising the personal gains from consumer spending. At all other costs, whether that be Wal-Mart destroying a community, Amazon destroying people, etc. There is a blindness to American individualistic culture that convinced many, many people that saving 75 cents per 12 pack of Coke is worth losing local businesses.

Further, Amazon in the US enjoys the benefit of two significant externalities. The first is a different tax regime. And the second is carbon externality of surface transport. If Amazon had to pay appropriate taxes and pay for the carbon generated by it's BFE distribution centres, the price advantage would quickly errode.

Point being, the problem is not Amazon, the problem is us.

The mechanisation of human labour is a different point, and far more difficult. If we're going to speak about China, one thing you must remember is that for the Chinese, these dehumanising factory jobs are a step forward on personal trajectories. The people working in many of those factories are quite young, and they are happy to work at the factory, for it is the first step in a journey. And based on this description, Chinese factories sound like a paradise. Workers on the line chat, their shared dormitories reduce communiting time, there are social activities arranged, there are mentorship programmes. The Chinese workers that I saw never suffered alone -- which is what it sounds like people at the Amazon DC do. The Chinese decorate their working environments, and they only talk about what they will do next; where Foxconn will take them.

In America, it's a step backward. As mentioned, an option of last resort. It's not about where that work will take the worker; it's a race to the bottom. It's a mark of a declining society feeding on itself.

And as to why there are not more robots? Robots are extremely expensive compared to human labour and require the entire system to be designed around the robot, for relatively marginal gains. At the Mini factory in Oxford, UK, there are two lines. The standard Mini was produced on a line that was 50% automated and had probably 40 people working. The new Clubman (this was 2008) was produced on a line that was 95% automated and had less than 10 working it. That is a reduction in staff of 25% yet the cost of automation will never be returned in labour savings, in the short-term. The payback period is decades. There are numerous other advantages -- quality control being the primary benefit -- however it's not a cost argument with robots… at least not yet.

Foxconn has ordered 100,000 robots to replace workers on the Apple lines. This was planned before Mr. Daisy's self-righteous trip. Those robots will be delivered 20k at a time over the next five years to a tremendous capital cost. Why now? Because Chinese labour wages are exploding.

Here's some mind-blowing shit for you. The value of the Chinese assembly industry has increased by no less than a couple hundered percent in the last decade. The number of Chinese factory workers employed has decreased by 8% in the same period. Thus, the value of the industry is coming from wage increases. It's not a dystopian fantasy going on in China, rather a strictly business-driven evolution. Foxconn can justify robotic assembly lines because 1) wages are rising quickly, 2) they reached a size where they could order 100k robots, thus gaining economies of scale, and 3) the Chinese assembly industry is actually decreasing in size.

In the case of Amazon, robots are simply not cost-effective given the externalities they enjoy, especially the temporary worker game that US companies are allowed to play. Why would you invest in a robotic fleet of workers at extreme capital cost when treating people like poo is cheap and sanctioned?

The moral of the story is:
1) Stop thinking about Chinese factory workers to justify American working conditions because it's not a logical argument. "It's turning into China" is not a valid argument, because the average Chinese factory worker may well have more options in their lifetime than the individuals in an Amazon DC.

2A) If you order from Amazon, you are putting people on that warehouse floor. Adjust your moral compass accordingly.

2B) There are better options out there, like Foyles for the Brits, and Powell's for Americans.

3) The value chain is unforgiving. If your 12 pack of Coke is 75 cents less at Wal-Mart, there's a reason for that. That savings is coming from somewhere.
posted by nickrussell at 3:49 AM on February 28, 2012 [148 favorites]


"You're doomed. So if you're going to be doomed, you might as well take the only chance you have of getting a better life. You might as well join in with other people who are also getting screwed..."

Or crime.

Great article though, thanks for posting. Marx is very good on factories literally working people to death as a matter of course, as discussed by David Harvey in his 'Capital' lectures (posted here previously).
posted by colie at 3:51 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It makes me so angry. I am not just playing around here, we need to do something radical to change the way things are. UNION or the BARRICADES. Fuck the rich, they are vampires and leeches.

Shame on us all, collectively, yes, but we've been conditioned and educated that this is the way for generations now. People need to get aware and they need to stand up.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:12 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who would have thunk this would be an appropriate song for average North American schmucks 40 odd years later? This shit is ridiculous.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:14 AM on February 28, 2012


Mac McClelland does excellent work. I was duped by Amazon. When the stories ran about their un-air conditioned warehouses, Amazon relented and installed some sort of cooling. Depending on when this story was written, either they think fans are acceptable, or Amazon just installed cooling in their own warehouses. These third-party logistics companies didn't follow Amazon's lead.
posted by narcoleptic at 4:24 AM on February 28, 2012


Nickrussell - while I sympathise with your argument, appealing to people's morality both on the demand and on the supply side is not going to work. If this were the answer we'd be able to transform entire economies just by ordering populations to act in certain ways for the greater good. But in a free society people just won't act the way you want.

The only way you can get employers such as this to treat its workers properly is by forcing them to through legislation.
posted by Summer at 4:33 AM on February 28, 2012 [19 favorites]


The Atlantic had an incredible article recently about the economics of labor in manufacturing, which is similar to the question of automating these warehouse jobs:
Tony explains that Maddie has a job for two reasons. First, when it comes to making fuel injectors, the company saves money and minimizes product damage by having both the precision and non-precision work done in the same place. Even if Mexican or Chinese workers could do Maddie’s job more cheaply, shipping fragile, half-finished parts to another country for processing would make no sense. Second, Maddie is cheaper than a machine. It would be easy to buy a robotic arm that could take injector bodies and caps from a tray and place them precisely in a laser welder. Yet Standard would have to invest about $100,000 on the arm and a conveyance machine to bring parts to the welder and send them on to the next station. As is common in factories, Standard invests only in machinery that will earn back its cost within two years. For Tony, it’s simple: Maddie makes less in two years than the machine would cost, so her job is safe—for now. If the robotic machines become a little cheaper, or if demand for fuel injectors goes up and Standard starts running three shifts, then investing in those robots might make sense.
The pressures are big and systemic, and the answers need to be, as well. (Or, on preview, what Summer just wrote: "The only way you can get employers such as this to treat its workers properly is by forcing them to through legislation.") Morality plays a part, but it will take laws and organized labor, not hoping that millions of individual people will make the right choices while shopping.
posted by Forktine at 4:45 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Summer – Good call. Couple of points below.

in a free society people just won't act the way you want.

It's not the way I want them to act; rather it's educating people about the choices they have. It's like that quote, "you get the government that you deserve", similarly, if the society is driven by consumers, American consumers have built the society they (think they) want.

I'm not about forcing people to act in the greater good. I do think it is worth presenting the argument in a truthful construct. "If you want cheap stuff off the internet, this is what happens…" and let them make a moral judgement.

forcing them to through legislation

Potentially I agree with you. But then legislation in a democracy is ideally driven by the demand side. If everyone votes for fair wages, then we have fair wages. Similar to the civic action in Inglewood against Wal-Mart. One can have their argument if voting itself is effective or if America remains a free democracy; those are different arguments. However, I see legislation as the best example of the demand side managing the supply side.
posted by nickrussell at 4:51 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then I don't think our positions are so very different.

I think it's really difficult to appeal to people's better nature when it comes to their purchasing habits. Very few boycot cut-price clothing retailers, for example, even though they know those clothes are produced in sweatshop conditions.

If people can't see the suffering, and if wider society seems to sanction it (as these cut-price shops exist), then they they're going to continue doing what they're doing. People make selfish choices when they act individually.

But I agree that if you can get people to feel a collective sense of shame, then it's easier for a nation to act collectively to stop these practices happening - ie through legislation.
posted by Summer at 5:14 AM on February 28, 2012


People, as a group, are going to act in their own self-interest, and to hell with everything and everybody else-- education be damned, morality be damned, the community be damned.

I don't think education is the problem. People don't think of buying Coke cheaper at Wal-Mart as some kind of moral choice with bigger implications down the line, and I don't think they ever will, no matter how much education you throw at them. I think people already know someone else is hurt by buying the Coke 75 cents cheaper at Wal-Mart, and they don't care. That hurt is on someone else. All they know is they have 75 more cents to spend to keep themselves and their family alive. Human nature can not be changed, period.

The only way you can get employers such as this to treat its workers properly is by forcing them to through legislation.

To that I would add extremely rigorously enforced legislation.

Employers only do the right thing when, essentially, you put a gun to their head. It's that damn human nature thing again.
I'm convinced, at this point, we're going to need real guns before all of this is over.
posted by KHAAAN! at 5:20 AM on February 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


Incredibly eye-opening article. I genuinely had no idea that conditions were that bad for so many people in the US. It makes me worry when I read how little young people in Sweden today care about unions.

Also, nickrussell, thanks for your brilliant comment. I appreciate your insight and candor.
posted by harujion at 5:30 AM on February 28, 2012


at least conversations are not forbidden, as they were in the Ohio warehouse I reported on—where I saw a guy get fired for talking, specifically for asking another employee, "Where are you from?"

This has less to do with efficiency and more to do with preventing opportunities for labor organizing. If they don't talk to each other, they can't form relationships. If they can't form relationships, they can't cooperate.

Those within both the slaveholding south and Mao's China were known to express a wish that labor could be done with unthinking apes who would not bother them with human agency or concerns. We see the same thing happening here, and it seems to show that the first step to cracking down on unions is to separate and dehumanize the workers, because the instant they start to let human relationships and activity occur between them, the grand threat that management is afraid of begins to loom.
posted by deanc at 5:48 AM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Let me remind people that not everyone lives in a large metro area where you can get everything locally. I shop at Amazon when I can't get something locally, which is not all the time but is not uncommon either.

I'm not talking about books, but something like this Oxo drying mat. If I want this I have to order it online.

So then it becomes a choice of online shopping, and I'd rather have all my info at one place, Amazon, than a million little shops just so I could avoid Amazon. But then again, maybe that is something I should consider.

Anyway, my point is, if you live in small-America, your choices of products are limited. And shopping online becomes necessary.
posted by evening at 5:51 AM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


nickrussell: "I'm not about forcing people to act in the greater good. I do think it is worth presenting the argument in a truthful construct. "If you want cheap stuff off the internet, this is what happens…" and let them make a moral judgement."
And if what I want is the possibility to do my shopping without human interaction, what are my moral++ options?
posted by brokkr at 6:17 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyway, my point is, if you live in small-America, your choices of products are limited. And shopping online becomes necessary.

This fulfillment existed for more then a century before "online" was even a word that existed. It was called the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

The distribution of goods to rural sections of America isn't a thing to thank the internet or Amazon for; it's something owed entirely to a legislatively-mandated, government-created, taxpayer-funded Post Office system.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:25 AM on February 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


If you order from Amazon, you are putting people on that warehouse floor. Adjust your moral compass accordingly.

How many degrees of adjustment will shopping at Target save me? Because the last Ye Olde Personal Care Products Shoppe in my area recently went out of business.
posted by diogenes at 6:26 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


And shopping online becomes necessary.

Sorry but this is most certainly not a necessity. Not to lump it all onto you personally, but the larger point is that we've been taught as consumers that everything should be available, perfect and infinite choices. In addition to not saving $0.75 you sometimes get poorer selection locally.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:32 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Welcome to the dream, people. Welcome to the dream.

This is the wonderful globalist, populist paradise that Dawkins, Hitchens, et al, are always shouting at us is so much better than "before." Only, no one seems to remember, really, what "before" means.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:34 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Because a 12-pack of Coke is 75 cents less than at the Ralphs." That's a decision the consumer is actively making, that they're own happiness is more important than the happiness of the community.

But the consumer is the one who works in the warehouse and needs the job ever more for each 75 cents they forego, so it's circular. I doubt Mittens worries about the 75 cents when he buys something. It's ultimately abut the 99% fighting over crumbs.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:35 AM on February 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Dawkins, Hitchens, et al

????
posted by Summer at 6:41 AM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Dawkins, Hitchens, et al

I'm not sure what this means either, but I instinctively agreed with the feel of it. That pair are somehow really bad advertisements for capitalism.
posted by colie at 6:49 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


She never names the retailer, but could it be anybody *but* Amazon?

A few Christmases ago, I spent a month or so working for this company. I was desperate for work, having been recently laid off from a warehouse manager job.

They had a big "job fair" at the local unemployment office looking for temp to hire people with experience. (With fucking experience, I made 8.25 an hour. In lower Fairfield County, Connecticut. For those that don't know, it's one of highest costs of living in the US.)

The interview was humiliating. I had to demonstrate my ability to perform warehouse tasks by miming using a box cutter, lifting imaginary boxes and operating an imaginary forklift. (I shit you not.) I actually asked the woman interviewing me if she was serious. I mean, I've interviewed and hired people and I would never, EVER, ask anyone to humiliate themselves like that.

I got hired along with about 75 other people. The job itself was typical warehouse work but the time requirements were ridiculous. No set hours per week, no scheduling past the current week and all schedules subject to change without notice. One guy's mom died in the month I was there and they refused to give him the time off to go to the wake.

As soon as I could, I left. A day's notice and I never looked back.

Later I ran into a guy I worked with and I asked them how many they kept from that group of 75.


Not one.
posted by dave78981 at 6:51 AM on February 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Evening: "...shopping online becomes necessary."

This, of course, assumes that items such as a silicone drying mat are a necessity. Unless you're buying your water, food, and shelter from an online retailer, shopping online is not a necessity.

Not saying that you're wrong for wanting or buying something like that, but I think it's important to keep a clear head about what "necessity" means.
posted by broadway bill at 6:54 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


dave78981: your interview process for that job is similar to some I've been through, and it is truly one of the most humiliating and enraging experiences imaginable. I want to weep every single time I hear about those situations and interactions.

In my house, a day with that sort of experience spurs the purchase of more ammo.
posted by broadway bill at 6:59 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


When did Richard Dawkins ever write about US labour laws?
posted by Human Flesh at 7:03 AM on February 28, 2012


I must say - Capitalism does Capitalism quite badly.
posted by symbioid at 7:09 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't meant to imply that a drying mat is a necessity like food, etc. But that w/o buying online, like via catalog pre-internet, you have few options and sometimes no choices at all.

I'm lucky I have a Bed Bath & Beyond. Many in my state do not, and either have to travel really far to get to it, or do without. So, you're saying they shouldn't have access to stuff that meets their needs because buying online is bad?

So to use my drying mat as an example, I use towels down on the counter because I don't always have the room on the stove to dry large items, like pots & pans. The typical drying rack doesn't work well. But using towels has its own problems. But lo and behold someone has come out with a gadget that solves my problems. So it is bad for me to buy it online because I can't get it locally?
posted by evening at 7:17 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dawkins? What? A man who, in 2003, described the Bush election as a "a constitutional coup d'état" and that president as "a catastrophe for the world"? A man who said “as a scientist I'm thrilled by natural selection, but as a human being I abhor it as a principle for organising society"?

Not all radical atheists are the same person.
posted by howfar at 7:30 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Burn it down.
posted by weinbot at 7:32 AM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


No, evening, no one is saying that people "shouldn't have access to stuff that meets their needs because buying online is bad."

People need things, of course, and I am not at all in favor of restricting access to those things. I am, though, challenging the idea that Bed Bath and Beyond or Amazon sells anything that anyone needs.
posted by broadway bill at 7:34 AM on February 28, 2012


michaelh: "I was never clear on how that happens without guns. Don't Occupy advocates in general hate/sneer at gun owners, farmers, rednecks, NRA members, libertarians, constitutionalists etc.? Are they expecting Soros to arm them?"

Umm. No. You have a very distorted view of Occupy, clearly. You think Occupy is just mainstream elitist liberals or something. There's one video clip of a border patrol militia down in Arizona standing around with guns as a line between the protesters and the cops - backs towards the protesters, protecting their right to speak against the police state. Clearly, there's probably some issues in some views between the two, but the reason Occupy chose 99% because the idea is to find common ground (hence the original consensus mechanism for voting (which got watered down to 80-90 percent, because there should be some way to prevent complete deadlock)...

You have people like Lawrence Lessig giving speeches about uniting the Tea Party and Occupy in ways that they can work together.

There was an article about a local Tea Party inviting Occupy folks over and the discussion had some commonalities and some differences. There were some crazy Tea Party types who still didn't like it, but both sides did find some commonalities.

The whole theme of Occupy is that we need to have a mass movement.

There's a huge issue surrounding the black bloc on the West Coast Occupy between the Black Bloc type folks and the overall Occupy movement. West Coast is clearly more militant, and there's a line that some folks are not happy crossing (at least, yet)... And they are annoyed that the black bloc keeps pushing that in ways that are a bit pre-emptive and strategically futile.

Anyways. Occupy is a broad movement and some want finance reform, some want electoral reform. There's a "local farming" initiative in NYC growing out of Occupy which can get along w/the people like John Robb and his "The End is Nigh - we need 'Resiliant Communities'" types, which tend towards the more right-end of the spectrum.

So please stop thinking that Occupy is just some liberal claptrap feel good protesting like usual.

It may end up as nothing, but it's trying its best to unify across the spectrum when it can...

And PS: Not all liberals and lefties are anti-gun.
posted by symbioid at 7:35 AM on February 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


Welcome to Amazon Town
Retired 'Workampers' Flock to Remote Towns for Temporary Gigs; RV Parks Are Full
Amazon's Holiday Helpers

also btw...
posted by kliuless at 7:42 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ardiril: "Shuffle them off to the taxpayer in the form of Social Security disability.

That depends on whether the employee has actually met the minimum employment periods and paid in sufficient deductions.
"

And has the fortitude and ability to weather years and years of appeals, draining resources of those closest to them who hardly have enough as it is; those closest to them wiping their OWN retirement funds trying to support them while they continue to push for their disability.

So now those people have to work and slave away well beyond retirement age just to find a modicum of money in the meantime.

They will rip it out of you.

And you will continue to vote Republican, because someone out there might be getting something for free, so better to spite myself to spite them, instead of helping those I love and making it easier for me.
posted by symbioid at 7:48 AM on February 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is the wonderful globalist, populist paradise that Dawkins, Hitchens, et al, are always shouting at us is so much better than "before." Only, no one seems to remember, really, what "before" means.

I don't think I'd call either Dawkins or Hitchens a "populist", and I'd struggle to think of either of them as cheerleaders for globalisation either.
posted by atrazine at 7:50 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is seriously fucked up, and warehouses aren't the only game out there that basically amounts to wage slavery. Also,
A minute's tardiness after the first week earns us 0.5 penalty points, an hour's tardiness is worth 1 point, and an absence 1.5
My brain automatically translates that point system to "If your morning routine is off by a single minute, you might as well go back to sleep to really earn that extra point."
posted by cirrostratus at 7:52 AM on February 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


bardic: "I worked a similar job for a year but we also had fire, sharp things, and a staff (including the managers) who were usually high or really wishing they were high.

Yeah, not good to be under a 2-ton industrial steel mold and have your co-worker on the computer ask you if you had any spare Vicodin.
"

Yeah - at least the Chinese Railroad workers had Opium. They took all our drugs away so we can't even tolerate shit.

I remember a story about one reason people used weed in Jamaica was to ease the pain of working in the fields all day. Look at the Coca usage in Bolivia and shit like that. It's to make the pain of life a little easier.

Fuck puritan work induced pain "soul purification". Right-wing bigots who think work means suffering and if you're not suffering or complain about it you're just a lazy piece of shit commie.
posted by symbioid at 8:00 AM on February 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


In 2003 I got a job at a distribution center, employed through a temp agency on the promise of permanent hire after 90 days. The work was not nearly as grueling as the work described in this article; while we were still required to work quickly and accurately, the expectations were reasonable for a person who is reasonably in shape, and rather than getting around on our own power, we were issued motorized pallet jacks to move around.**

The mood of the place was generally somewhat grim. I didn't understand it at first, until I started noticing a handful of people who sometimes wore shirts advertising a union vote that would've occurred about a month before I got hired. I talked to a few of them, and apparently management had found ways to fire people who they knew were union supporters, to the point where the union vote had failed due to attrition. The people who still wore the shirts were to a one bitter as hell about it, but they needed the job

After 90 days on the dot, I got a call half an hour before work saying not to come in, and that they were laying me off, which struck me as the single least classy way to do that. I got lucky and found work quickly; I decided to volunteer as a page at the local library to keep busy, and on the day I went in to start, found myself in a job interview- one of the pages had quit that morning, leaving his shift uncovered. Other people, I dunno how lucky they were.

I got the last laugh, though- about four or five months later, I was sitting at a Panera and eating and reading a book, and one of my former coworkers, a permanent hire, walked in. We shot the shit, I asked how things were at the DC, and he said that about a month after I got laid off, corporate management had come by to do audits and discovered that rather than using the temp service to find people who would ultimately be hired, the DC's local management were hiring swarms of temps and laying them off every 90 days, which corporate, wanting a skilled, experienced workforce, was not okay with. The whole lot of management were fired and replaced, but by then I was already in a better job...



**The place I worked was not filling individual online orders but resupply orders from various stores, so we were filling up pallets and delivering them to a central wrap station where they'd be wrapped in plastic and loaded for shipment- the furthest we'd carry anything would be from the rack to the pallet. Much less painful.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:09 AM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Who the fuck buys their paper towels off the internet?

Me, asshole. I have 4 kids. My wife and I both work (opposite shifts), so if I can avoid an hour long trip to Costco during my 2 free fucking hours of the day and pay roughly the same price while having stuff delivered to my door. I'll do it, thanks.
posted by horsemuth at 8:13 AM on February 28, 2012 [18 favorites]


@atrazine dont worry, its just those two antitheists we have a problem with

sure a lot of revolutions have involved pogroms but if i don't succeed in making anyone who expresses concerns look like a nut or a joke, i'll tell you we're only gonna cleanse the bad people, and that should shut you up
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:28 AM on February 28, 2012


Mac McClelland does excellent work. I was duped by Amazon. When the stories ran about their un-air conditioned warehouses, Amazon relented and installed some sort of cooling.

Here's what bothers me about the article. Why doesn't she name the fricking company? If you want to make the world better, name the f*ckin names! Calling it "Amalgamated" is a complete cop-out.
posted by storybored at 8:33 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey storybored, why don't you work in a warehouse, write a story about it, and publish something of sufficient quality that people will talk about it on the internet. Then you can name the company yourself.

It's not as easy as it looks.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:02 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


On one hand, does everyone need a 50" TV and a McMansion, and on the other hand, do the guys in the corner office really need to make 50 or 500x what their subordinates make? On one hand, the standard of living has gone up amazingly from 100 years ago, and on the other hand people are still dying from lack of health care. On one hand local products and production is expensive, on the other hand if you keep buying from wal-mart there will be no more local products or production thus no local money. What is the practical answer? Live frugally, buy well made durable goods conscious of their externalities and consumables local where possible and fair-trade when not, and make sure you take lots of time enjoy sunsets, kittens, and concerts. I dunno, I'm just one guy, and I could get so angry that I explode about the whole 0.1% debacle but really when it comes down to it I'm just trying to get by without too much angst or regret.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:03 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


>On one hand, does everyone need a 50" TV and a McMansion

The crap that's getting sold on Amazon or whatever is not making up the accouterments of a McMansion. As someone noted above, people are using Amazon often to save money, thanks to wages that have remained flat (and have declined in real terms) over the past decade or so.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:10 AM on February 28, 2012


so if I can avoid an hour long trip to Costco during my 2 free fucking hours of the day and pay roughly the same price while having stuff delivered to my door.

Your profile shows you as living in central Connecticut, a state which I have driven across the long way in less than four hours. I have not spent much time there, but I am honestly surprised that there is nowhere in the entire state to buy paper towels.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:14 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some terrifically depressing quotes in there:

"It's worth considering how the hell those goods get to you, so fast, and for free, when the company you bought them from is posting profits in the millions, or even, in the case of Amazon, billions. Chances are, it's via the people who worked for the small businesses we ruined when we were saving $4 by buying stuff off the internet, people performing dangerously repetitive or otherwise ergonomically unsound jobs in a cold, shitty, emotionally abusive warehouse for very little money and very few benefits, the kind of conditions people endure only because it's their last resort. It's worth considering, because one of the reasons those conditions can so widely prevail is that no one ever does."

...

"What if I want to vote?" I ask a supervisor. "I think you should!" he says. "But if I leave I'll get fired," I say. To which he makes a sad face before saying, "Yeah."

...

every time a "Place Order" button rings, a poor person takes four Advil and gets told they suck at their job

...

Welcome back, Brian. Don't end up like Brian.

Good lord. We knew it was coming, but it's still so sad to see.

The real saddest part of all of it is ... (apart from the ludicrously strict rules) the job itself--running around a warehouse, searching for and grabbing stuff (anyone else do low-end library work?) isn't that bad ... for a few hours a day! Or even for a standard 8-hour day with reasonable breaks and time off for having a fucking baby.

It's the 10-12 hour days for $60 or less and the lack of freedom in the military-school/prison-like culture that kill you after a while.

My first job in the mid-90s was doing quota work, and I was good at it, so the quotas weren't too hard, but even the stress buildup there (at $7.14/hr. for a 22 y.o.) after a year or two was considerable. On the flip side, you get your daily quota, you're done. You don't have long-term projects and deadlines hanging over your head.

What was funny about reading that article was her focus on the demoralizing insistence that she was not meeting the efficiency standards.

Yeah, when I was doing quota work, I remember my evil brain would think, "Why not just make the quotas a little too high so that employees are always failing and thinking they need to improve ... even if they don't make the new high quotas, you still get more ... "

They were terrified were would organize, though, so the threat of a labor guild/union was enough to get us small raises and reasonable quotas.

The funniest thing about it, I remember, was that the incentives for exceeding quota was getting to leave an hour early the next day ... but you still had to make your quota. ... then you think ... well why do they even care about hours at all? ... hey!

Anyway, a roundabout way of saying that it's not the job/industry per se that is inherently wrong (well, aside from the overproduction of plastic crap), but the practices that could apply to any industry/job. As a 22 y.o. I would certainly prefer a warehouse job like this one to telemarketing or door-to-door sales, or pure commission sales, or good lord those poor annoying people canvassing on downtown streets. I might even take this over grocery store work, depending on the store.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:16 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


But I'd smudge identifying details of people and the company itself. Anyway, to do otherwise might give people the impression that these conditions apply only to one warehouse or one company. Which they don't.

I'm irritated that she doesn't say which company she's writing about, and then also give specifics about some other companies that are similar. It's like an article that relies on too many anonymous sources; it makes it feel less credible. (Which is not to say that it is less credible; she's an established writer and I presume that this was fact-checked to hell and back. But as a reader I like to know what, exactly, I'm reading about.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:18 AM on February 28, 2012


Hey storybored, why don't you work in a warehouse, write a story about it, and publish something of sufficient quality that people will talk about it on the internet. Then you can name the company yourself. It's not as easy as it looks.

I didn't say it was easy. It's obviously very hard. What I am saying is given all the effort, why not name the company? Here is an obviously dickish company, doing dickish/stupid things. Name the damn company.
posted by storybored at 9:34 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]



I didn't say it was easy. It's obviously very hard. What I am saying is given all the effort, why not name the company? Here is an obviously dickish company, doing dickish/stupid things. Name the damn company.


My guess is that the author signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of the hiring process and they would run into legal trouble if they named the company.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 9:40 AM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ah, that makes sense, DrumsIntheDeep.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:45 AM on February 28, 2012


I should make everyone in my warehouse read this article. It's nice to be an employer who treats workers with basic human dignity.
posted by slogger at 9:45 AM on February 28, 2012


The intrepid Mac is awesome!

Previously. She certainly gets around.
posted by homunculus at 9:49 AM on February 28, 2012


I only buy hairshirts from Amazon, so it evens out.
posted by diogenes at 9:49 AM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Who the fuck buys their paper towels off the internet?

In Fresno, buying cat litter online was cheaper than the local price plus the round-trip bus fare. The time-savings made the online purchase that much more efficient. Plus, it was delivered next-day.
posted by Ardiril at 9:53 AM on February 28, 2012


Your profile shows you as living in central Connecticut, a state which I have driven across the long way in less than four hours. I have not spent much time there, but I am honestly surprised that there is nowhere in the entire state to buy paper towels.

Holy Shit! You're right. I have entirely no idea what I'm talking about. I will try to parse what sounds like you trying to call bullshit on my statement, a favor that I wish you had done me when you read what I wrote. I did not state that I could not find anywhere to buy paper towels. I can go buy paper towels 100 places within 2 miles of my house...if I want to pay $3 for a roll. Now, one may infer from my post a couple of possibilities. My wife and I are masochists and enjoy working long hours, and maximizing the time that each of us is the sole caregiver for 4 kids and minimizing the time for ourselves and each other...OR...money is somewhat of a priority and we have this schedule to give the most attention and care to the kids while maximizing our ability to bring money in. If you chose the latter answer, you are correct (though who has 4 kids if they aren't a little masochistic). Therefore I can buy a 6 rolls for $5 down the street, or I can drive 15 minutes and buy approximately 40 rolls for $15 from a Costco type store (BJ's, since you're acting as my personal fact checker today), which is the price most comparable to Amazon's. So, that's a half hour travel time and a half hour for the store, which even if I was running in solely for the towels may not be enough time. That equals an hour of my 2 hours of "free" time that I have on a daily basis.
I am reading your comment again as I type because sometimes I get fired up and type a response to someone, only to find out that I'm reading their comment a little harshly. I am baffled, though. If you sought to convince me that my ordering from amazon was detrimental to the environment, or that I was part of the labor problem, then I would accept that as legitimate criticism, but to argue as if I said that I ordered from amazon because paper towels were not available in my state is obtuse at best.
posted by horsemuth at 9:55 AM on February 28, 2012 [18 favorites]


money is somewhat of a priority and we have this schedule to give the most attention and care to the kids while maximizing our ability to bring money in. If you chose the latter answer, you are correct (though who has 4 kids if they aren't a little masochistic). Therefore I can buy a 6 rolls for $5 down the street, or I can drive 15 minutes and buy approximately 40 rolls for $15 from a Costco type store (BJ's, since you're acting as my personal fact checker today), which is the price most comparable to Amazon's. So, that's a half hour travel time and a half hour for the store, which even if I was running in solely for the towels may not be enough time. That equals an hour of my 2 hours of "free" time that I have on a daily basis.

And this is why we can't have nice things.

Seriously, it's like the managers in the article: they don't want to push people to the breaking point, either. They do it because they need a job and these are the rules they are paid to enforce. You do it because, with the job you work, money is a priority.

The cycle of poverty in America is like playing the Prisoner's Dilemma in every single transaction. Being a consumer in America is like being the unwitting test subject of Stanley Milgram. There is nothing at all that prevents you from being both at once.
posted by gauche at 10:02 AM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


My guess is that the author signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of the hiring process and they would run into legal trouble if they named the company.

A non-disclosure agreement is stopping the naming of names? OMG. Doesn't Mother Jones realize that if the company sues them for breaking a non-disclosure agreement, the said company will be screwed six ways to Sunday?

Here's a famous undercover investigation. Foxconn was outed, they've had to change. Meanwhile "Amalgamated" is sitting there business as usual.
posted by storybored at 10:04 AM on February 28, 2012



I didn't say it was easy. It's obviously very hard. What I am saying is given all the effort, why not name the company? Here is an obviously dickish company, doing dickish/stupid things. Name the damn company.


By periodically listing things they handled and stressing the sheer diversity of the product line, along with the *wink* *wink* of using a fictitious name that starts with "Ama" she pretty much did.
posted by sourwookie at 10:07 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Who the fuck buys their paper towels off the internet?

When I was living in rural Alaska, I started buying some of my groceries from them because they had just started to offer free shipping there (You don't want to know how much shipping would have cost).
posted by steamynachos at 10:09 AM on February 28, 2012


Seriously, it's like the managers in the article: they don't want to push people to the breaking point, either. They do it because they need a job and these are the rules they are paid to enforce. You do it because, with the job you work, money is a priority.

The cycle of poverty in America is like playing the Prisoner's Dilemma in every single transaction. Being a consumer in America is like being the unwitting test subject of Stanley Milgram. There is nothing at all that prevents you from being both at once.
posted by gauche at 1:02 PM on February 28 [+] [!]


Sure. Fair point, and certainly an interesting thought to digest. I just don't need Nathan Hale over there telling me how to better find paper towels in connecticut.
posted by horsemuth at 10:14 AM on February 28, 2012


Honestly, I'm not going to nitpick the article. I had no idea this was going on, and I'm going to assume it's not made up out of whole cloth.

Now I have to ask the question: which is more moral? To cease buying online entirely? I'm in a position where I can do that, and all it'll cost me is a little inconvenience. Or do I decide that a job is better than no job, and continue to buy? I'm leaning toward the first, but I do question it.

Would it do any good to write to someone at Amazon (which I assume is Amalgamated)? Tell them why I'm not buying there? I feel like I have to do something, because this is just inhumane.
posted by cereselle at 10:16 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


using a fictitious name that starts with "Ama"

Hinting that the company may be Amazon is not the same as saying it is Amazon. I am not at all convinced that that warehouse was owned by Amazon.

Plus, the instance of one warehouse managed as such is not even close to evidence that the entire industry is run as such. Sure, there are some, even as I indicated earlier, including filing warehouses run by the IRS. Are you going to boycott the IRS over their labor policies?
posted by Ardiril at 10:17 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Again we come back to the lame calls for people to just make "good consumer choices" as a way to make mega corp distributors behave. That's a crock of crap, because the mega corp distributors get away with what they are doing as a result of the regulatory environment. The distributors should not be allowed to do this crap, that's why we're supposed to have a government, which allegedly rules in the name of the people. That's what our "representatives" are supposed to be doing, representing us and writing laws to stop all these bullshit labor practices.
posted by wuwei at 10:22 AM on February 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


Cereselle, doing something means getting together with other people to compel the management of these companies to do the right thing. Compel.
posted by wuwei at 10:23 AM on February 28, 2012


Again we come back to the lame calls for people to just make "good consumer choices" as a way to make mega corp distributors behave. That's a crock of crap, because the mega corp distributors get away with what they are doing as a result of the regulatory environment.

Whenever I hear about the power of the consumer to compel social justice and equality, I remember that, in the universe I live in, they use a Charles Bukowski poem to sell blue jeans, and the Beatles' Revolution, which is a song about a revolution, to sell tennis shoes.

The idea that we can shop our way to justice and freedom is an idea that I would absolutely love, if I were in the business of selling things to consumers.
posted by gauche at 10:28 AM on February 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


Uh, "Revolution" is not a pro-revolution song. Have you listened to it?
posted by entropicamericana at 10:33 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I favorited the comments above talking about time-motion studies, Galbraith, and scientific management. I've trained as an industrial engineer and ergonomist, and learning the history (and present) of the profession is humbling.

It may be bullshit buck-passing, but I'll say that a union and occupational health & safety legislation can get industrial engineers / ergonomicists hired to work on making work less shitty for the floor, not just more profitable for the business. That may not be how industrial engineering / ergonomics has been done historically, or most frequently, but the tools are there.

The fundamental problem of automation displacing labor needs to be somehow resolved in the economic system. There has to be some mechanism so that Henry Ford's workers can still buy cars, even if a machine does the repetitive, crappy jobs. Have the Germans figured it out? Cause right now I'm conflicted that getting rid of shitty jobs is a bad thing.
posted by anthill at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


A non-disclosure agreement is stopping the naming of names? OMG. Doesn't Mother Jones realize that if the company sues them for breaking a non-disclosure agreement, the said company will be screwed six ways to Sunday?

IANAL, but I'm sure at least one looked into it and advised their client to go one way or the other. The Jungle didn't name names, but it got the point across.
posted by clorox at 10:39 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea that we can shop our way to justice and freedom is an idea that I would absolutely love, if I were in the business of selling things to consumers.

Exactly. It's like those people who claim that you vote with your wallet. Gee, I wonder how much money you have?

I just don't need Nathan Hale over there telling me how to better find paper towels in connecticut.

You know what's better than paper towels? Rags.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:42 AM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm no expert, but I'm told that the primary, legal responsibility of management at public companies in the USA is to maximize profits. Assuming that's true, it is the root cause of the poor treatment of workers (not to mention the destruction of our natural environment and probably some other problems).

Having primary, legally enforceable goals of corporations besides maximizing profits (such as the well-being of employees, the environment and the nation). Measuring and enforcing those goals is the tricky part of course.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 11:07 AM on February 28, 2012


I recently graduated from college and took a temp job working for a huge education company, scoring standardized tests. The rubrics we were given for scoring were pretty highly subjective. Each test was scored blindly by two scorers and the two scores were expected to be the same

Every two days I would get reprimanded for not agreeing with the other scores enough. In the most frustrating experience I was told "I think you are scoring correctly and are, on this prompt, a victim of the other people on the team being wrong so can you start scoring wrong too so the scores match?" I felt like I was doing terribly. Some days 90% agreement and some 50% yet I was doing the same thing the whole time!

What resonated with me was the feeling in that work environment that every day I was failing and couldn't offer any reason and got no suggests for improvement other than "Do better." Aside from the horrible toll on your body in this warehouse that feeling of failing is hard to live with.

As a funny aside they just offered me a position as a supervisor.
posted by Saminal at 11:19 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


If I were a billionaire I'd build a huge sprawling megaplex of shipping insanity, and pay good union wages.

And I'd give the unemployed enough money to NOT have work at that shithouse long enough for them to unionize.
posted by roboton666 at 11:26 AM on February 28, 2012


I just saw this on kottke, thought it was relevant: In the future, everything will be a coffee shop, and we will all spend our days ordering things online.
posted by gauche at 11:27 AM on February 28, 2012


In the future, everything will be a coffee shop, and we will all spend our days ordering things online.

Interesting that the author ignores sex. There will always be brick and mortar sex shops because they afford an extra level of privacy, or a different sort of privacy because you can use cash.

Brick and mortar retail stores will be converted to public spaces.

The public spaces we have now are often completely empty. ... because people are inside watching YouTube.

Which is more enjoyable: Starbucks or Walmart? For the sane: Starbucks. So if you can accomplish your Walmart shopping at Starbucks, why do it any other way?

Just plain weird.

All of these online shipping industries seem pretty unsustainable, but I suppose it depends on what you think is going to happen with oil/fuel.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:38 AM on February 28, 2012


Uh, "Revolution" is not a pro-revolution song. Have you listened to it?

"Revolution" is an anti-Maoist song; the Beatles clarified that they were pro-revolution, but anti-Mao.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:39 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Holy Shit! You're right. I have entirely no idea what I'm talking about.

Okay then.

If you sought to convince me that my ordering from amazon was detrimental to the environment, or that I was part of the labor problem, then I would accept that as legitimate criticism, but to argue as if I said that I ordered from amazon because paper towels were not available in my state is obtuse at best.

In my view, 'obtuse' would be arguing that every time you need a roll of paper towels that it will take up half your daily free time so you must order them from Amazon. As you did with mine, I spent a fair bit of time trying to parse your post. I am skeptical of the notion that buying a single item takes a half-hour spent inside a store. In any event, surely grocery shopping is not a daily trip; you speak of acquiring forty rolls at BJ's: How long does this package of forty rolls last you?

All that aside, I am certain your grocery list does not read:

1. Paper towels

An hour once a week spent grocery shopping is not especially unusual and need not destroy one's free time. I probably spend that much time if not more grocery shopping and still have time to spend with the family, and I buy essentially zero items online (truth be told, in the last two years, the entirety of my online purchases has been a few pdfs and some apps and music for the smartphone). I still support local businesses, even if I pay a buck more for my package of paper towels.

As to requiring some arguments about Amazon's role in labour practices, I saw little point in restating what others had said before and better. Look upthread or in other threads if you need information there.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:47 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is more enjoyable: Starbucks or Walmart?

Walmart by far. I can go in at 3am, get what I need then use the self check out all without the need to interact with another person. It is glorious.
posted by the_artificer at 11:48 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


My guess is that the author signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of the hiring process and they would run into legal trouble if they named the company.

Are NDA enforcable for minimum wage jobs like this, especially for something as mundane as what name of the company?
posted by Mitheral at 11:53 AM on February 28, 2012


Both are considered to be luxury labeling. Organic is about you consuming something better for yourself. Organic food can -- and is -- produced in sweatshop working conditions. Fair trade is about someone else and them being treated appropriately.

"If you have two items on the shelf, one is organic, and one is fair-trade, and they are the same price. Each is 10% more expensive than the standard retail equivelent. In the case of organic, that 10% goes to you, for you are eating something you perceive as cleaner and more healthy.


Total derail, but that simplistic breakdown of organic vs. fair trade seems more than a bit misleading to me, considering that pesticides probably affect farm workers more than anyone. And consider GMO contamination and long-term soil sustainability, etc.

Buying organic food is not (at least not completely) a selfish act. I agree with your general point, though.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:00 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


entropicamericana: "Uh, "Revolution" is not a pro-revolution song. Have you listened to it?"

Well it sure as hell wasn't about Consumer Capitalism.
posted by symbioid at 12:05 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is the wonderful globalist, populist paradise that Dawkins, Hitchens, et al, are always shouting at us is so much better than "before." Only, no one seems to remember, really, what "before" means.

Wow, that string of text is like the comment-equivalent of speaker feedback. Step back from the keyboard a little, clvrmnky, it's just noise coming out at the moment.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:06 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do you guys really think the warehouses that supply Target or Walmart or your local grocery store are any better than Amazon's?
posted by dirigibleman at 12:18 PM on February 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


In case some of you don't know, and it's fair if you don't, simply packing 3 or more kids into the van can _easily_ gulp a half hour of your day. That's before you even start the engine. The shorter your list of stops and/or things to get while you are out, the better. And it'd be nice to have a regularly scheduled grocery shopping day but in my experience, the more kids you have, the more chaos you have...and if Mom and Dad are taking turns being the sole caregiver, it's as if you actually have zero time off ever. That schedule is insane, you do not even want to know. I don't buy PT from Amazon but it's understandable.
posted by rahnefan at 12:31 PM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


dirigibleman: "Do you guys really think the warehouses that supply Target or Walmart or your local grocery store are any better than Amazon's?"

There is an economy of scale. If the rules say "30 seconds late back from break and you're fired", and you have a workforce of 20, and you catch someone coming back late, the next question is "can we get by with 95% staff for a day or two?". If you have 4000, the question becomes "can we get by with 99.9975% staff for a day or two?".
posted by idiopath at 12:32 PM on February 28, 2012


.... he writes as he prepares to leave for work so he can show up early, so as to insure he does not rack up any tardiness points...
posted by idiopath at 12:44 PM on February 28, 2012


Do you guys really think the warehouses that supply Target or Walmart or your local grocery store are any better than Amazon's?

Truthfully? Yes. I have worked in a grocery warehouse, and it was less than maximum fun, but nothing like the FPP talks about.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:23 PM on February 28, 2012


Wage slavery is a systemic problem. I am reminded of the poster featured in CrimethInc's recent book Work.

I'd give the unemployed enough money to NOT have work at that shithouse long enough for them to unionize.

So would I, if it were in my power. In fact, I support an unconditional subsistence income for all, as a step toward a world where no one would be forced to work under conditions like the ones described in McClelland's article due to poverty.
posted by velvet winter at 1:24 PM on February 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's really not fun to compare this to the Jesse Thorn piece. One is about following your dreams and this one pretty much makes you want to die reading it. It also reminds me to never, ever, ever quit my job, for fear that I may end up with no other option than one of these places.

I kind of want to look into boycotting these places now, but I think that's just not gonna work at this point, as others have mentioned.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:57 PM on February 28, 2012


One guy's mom died in the month I was there and they refused to give him the time off to go to the wake.

In an ideal world, their local newspaper should print their names and photos, and wherever they go people should point at them and jeer and shout, and their own children should voluntarily put themselves up for adoption and change their names, and their own mothers should refuse to speak to them again or acknowledge them as their children, and their doctor should refuse to treat them and refer them to a vet, and the vet should refuse to treat them because she doesn't do venomous creatures. and their loyal dog should run away to join the circus, first making sure that it does not leave even a solitary flea behind in their care.
posted by reynir at 3:15 PM on February 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


But tell us how you really feel.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:17 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Much, much angrier than that.
posted by reynir at 3:22 PM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


There are some good points in Nick's comment, but who cares about buying local? For most things, the carbon footprint of making the thing is dwarfs the carbon footprint of transporting it. As for the social cost, why should we prioritize the wellbeing of a local labourer? Does he deserve more business for the accident of having been born nearer to us?

Nick made some good points that Amazon should have to pay for "two significant externalities…", but that's not the consumer's fault. The voters should ensure that all companies are taxed fairly.

By all means, if you want a business to thrive, shop there. But, otherwise buying local is merely charity by another name.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:02 PM on February 28, 2012


In case of Zappos, it's a lot easier to automate because everything is already packed in boxes of similar size.

Oh, hey, that's really interesting. You always see those stories on Consumerist and so forth about the person who ordered the tiny replacement flange from Big Manufacturer Of Things That Need Flanges, and it gets delivered in a big shoebox stuffed senseless with packing beads. I guess that's why, because the packing robots need uniform sizes regardless of the dimensions of the part.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:48 PM on February 28, 2012


Why do people shop online?

Imagine that you're disabled by a medical condition that causes pain, fatigue, mobility problems. You want to buy some groceries.

Step one: Ring up and book the wheelchair ramp at your train station at least one hour before you travel.

Step two: Drive your powerwheelchair to the trainstation. There will be assholes who have parked their cars on the footpath, forcing you out onto the road (extremely dangerous.) There will be assholes who have left their rubbish bins on the footpath, forcing you out onto the road.

Step three: Catch the train. Sometimes people will hang off the back of your wheelchair as if it's a straphanger (painful), or bump the bits of you that hurt with their bags or their bodies. This can mean you hurt for days or weeks.

Step four: Drive the powerchair to the shop. Watch out for all the shoppers who are oblivious to your prescence.

Step five: You can't carry very much on the powerchair, so you can only buy two bags of groceries.

Step six: Catch the train home.

Step seven: Drive your powerchair home.

Step eight: Unpack your groceries.

By this point, you are too exhausted to wash fruit/vegetables or even eat.

That is you done for the day. Forget having a shower. Forget watching a film, reading a book, or having sex.

I'm horrified by the description of the working conditions at the warehouses - all the more so because when she talks about the physical pain she and the other workers feel, that's not an abstract concept for me. It is all too familiar.

But demonising people for shopping online is not the answer.

Better working conditions for warehouse staff - airconditioning/heating, sick leave, decent wages, unionisation - is the answer.
posted by Year of meteors at 4:55 PM on February 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Foxconn has ordered 100,000 robots to replace workers on the Apple lines. This was planned before Mr. Daisy's self-righteous trip. Those robots will be delivered 20k at a time over the next five years to a tremendous capital cost. Why now? Because Chinese labour wages are exploding.

As a sidebar to nickrussell's comment, the race to the bottom has been going on for a long time. There are many things that have led to the kind of environment where oppression, greed, and ruthlessness have become business as usual, of course, including the twin mantras of cost reduction and maximization of shareholder value -- both done too often to the utter detriment of the lives of the working poor (whose numbers keep swelling in the developed world). Offshoring of manual labour where possible to places like China, where labour (and human life, if we're more honest about it than their governments) is cheap is part of that process, of course, as is the drumbeat of the wonders of the 'service economy' and much else.

But just as a data point, Korea, specifically Busan, was the world capital of running shoe manufacturing in the early 1980s. An enormous percentage of the Big Shoe Company production was centred there, because that was the period, just after Park Chung Hee was assassinated and the economy was beginning to come into its own, when Koreans were both hungry for industrial development and willing to work not only ludicrously long hours, but for wages that were a fraction of those in the west. It was in some ways the first flush of the horrible bind we are in today.

But quickly enough -- as is happening in China now -- Koreans (mostly women, most in what could objectively be called sweatshops) started expecting higher wages, better standards of living, and a piece of the developed-world lifestyle pie. And, of course, the big companies pulled out their factories, moved them to China and South East Asia, often keeping on the Korean men who ran the sweatshops locally as middlemen to deal with the new workforces, in part because they were known with some justification for their brutalist ways.

Today, there are still more than enough of the slave-labour situations, but Koreans on the whole enjoy a lifestyle that approaches in its comforts that of the middle class anywhere else. The great irony is that most of the sweatshops and dire, Dickensian factories are now full of immigrants from Bangladesh or the Phillippines or elsewhere, come here to seek their fortune and send money home to their families.

It's dire no matter where you look -- this decades-long slide into a way of doing business that rewards corporate contempt and even outright hatred for the people that huge multinationals employ, in the service of achieving lower prices or propping up share prices or whatever the current goal of the month might be, all the while putting Happy Shiny PR faces on it. There are exceptions, of course -- CostCo is one that has been mentioned many times here before as treating its employees with respect and fairness, at least more so than many others do.

But the race to the bottom isn't over until the cascade has run down to its lowest level in the same way that in the last 30 years we've seen the shoe manufacturers move from North America and Europe into Korea when they wanted cheap labour, then into China when Korea got too expensive, and no doubt soon into the next place, and the next, when the people in those places start to expect better lives.

But there are a limited number of feasible places they can go as they run downslope that also have some degree of stability -- China was in this respect absolutely perfect because it's a fucking horrorshow of a Communist dictatorship. It's revolting to me personally how all the rah-rah about China in recent years, or so much of it at least, has ignored that simple fact. But the truth is that the multinationals value political stability -- at any price -- to nearly the same extent they value cheap labour.

So (and this veers uncomfortably close for me into conspiracy theory, and I don't mean it to sound as if I'm proposing fat-men-with-cigars-and-a-secret-plan here, just the way that business is done and the logical outgrowth of that) there looks to me like there are two choices for these companies:

1) Ignore difficult ideas like human rights, freedoms, or ethics, and work together with repressive dictatorships to a) keep them in power b) keep their people in line c) use those people for cheap labour, because, you know, the spice must flow.

and

2) In America and other 'affluent' countries, work to create a mindset among the young people, if not an actual underclass, that they're lucky to have any kind of work, no matter how demeaning, and that they have no right to the basic stuff that their parents took for granted -- affordable health care, pensions, time off, eliminating personal debt or not taking it on at all, job security, and so on and so on. If possible, create a situation where they actually are lucky to have work to feed their families. Build a bizarro consumption-based society funded by personal debt, where even if there's an attempt to rise up the socio-economic ladder through education, so much debt is incurred that there's no real getting past it, and where a lack of a tertiary education means that the wage-slave treadmill is the only place most people will ever be, so it's lose-lose for most, right out of the gate. Oh, and try to create a situation where people are so discouraged and disenfranchized from the political process -- through hammering the drum that ideas like 'privatization' and 'small government' actual make any real sense, if nothing else -- that even if they do have the energy at the end of the day from their hardscrabble existence they don't believe they actually can effect political change. Oh, and you know, try to make birth control hard to get, so that there are more young people having children before they are ready, and limit even further their ability to get off the employment treadmill. (I could go on, but I'm getting apoplectic here.)

I used to be angry when I was young and freshly politicized. That was probably in the early 1980s. My fury at how badly things have gone wrong, how nakedly and cynically the wealthy, the corporations, and far too many politicians are willing to exploit the societies they exist within, at how badly things have gone wrong and how marginalized dissent has become, and how goddamned toothless this idiocracy has made us as we entertain ourselves to death, well, it's getting pretty hot again: I tell you, I think my 50s are going to be a pretty angry and activist decade for me.

Or it's off to a cabin in the mountains somewhere for me. Because I'm not optimistic, and a big part of me just wants to let it burn.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:57 PM on February 28, 2012 [17 favorites]


I'd argue that overall, the change Amazon is bringing is a very, very good thing. It's not even about price. It's about selection, reviews and delivery. Imagine 100 people getting into their cars, driving down to a target or walmart, walking around aisles, some of them getting what they need, others finding that it's out of stock or not available at all. Contrast this with a single UPS truck driving down the street and dropping off 100 packages. There's immense saving in time, trouble, environment costs, energy costs. We're not going back to the old system, just like we're not going to start using quartzite scrapers painstakingly made with hours of manual labour.

Reviews are even more important. They will put pressure on manufacturers to stop with the planned obsolescence and start making high quality, robust, lasting products. This is good for smaller manufacturers who pay their workers well and focus on quality. It's better for environment and resources since you won't need to get new things nearly as often.

We need to take a different tack: if Amazon treats their workers poorly, we just have to let them know we'll get stuff from whatever online retailer is more humane.

What I'd like to see is a non-profit organization that rates retailers on things like worker treatment, environmental policies, etc. I have no idea who is doing better or worse in this regard, I'm only vaguely aware that Target treats their employees much better than Walmart, WF and TJs pays better than most other supermarkets, and that's about all I know. Having articles like this one is really helpful.
posted by rainy at 5:13 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Let me remind people that not everyone lives in a large metro area where you can get everything locally. I shop at Amazon when I can't get something locally, which is not all the time but is not uncommon either.

I'm not talking about books, but something like this Oxo drying mat. If I want this I have to order it online.

So then it becomes a choice of online shopping, and I'd rather have all my info at one place, Amazon, than a million little shops just so I could avoid Amazon. But then again, maybe that is something I should consider.

Anyway, my point is, if you live in small-America, your choices of products are limited. And shopping online becomes necessary.


Or you could just, I dunno, dry your fucking pots with a kitchen towel.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:22 PM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


So to use my drying mat as an example, I use towels down on the counter because I don't always have the room on the stove to dry large items, like pots & pans. The typical drying rack doesn't work well. But using towels has its own problems. But lo and behold someone has come out with a gadget that solves my problems. So it is bad for me to buy it online because I can't get it locally?


"problems"
posted by liketitanic at 7:40 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's similar to watching Wal-Mart shoppers that I have seen in Reno, Neveda. People who are already overweight taking massive boxes of food out of the store, having maximised their dollar. No one commanded them to maximise their dollar. There is the option of consuming less Coke for the same price.

This is a strawman. Charles Fishman ran some numbers in his book The Wal-Mart Effect. I'll recreate them for you here! Wal-Mart's groceries are, on average, about 15% cheaper than their competitors. The average household income in America is $31,000, or about $600 per week. If a family of four bringing in $31,000 a year spends $100 a week on groceries and saves 15% each week by shopping at Wal-Mart, they've saved around $700 per year, or more than one week's pay. In 2010, more than 75% of Americans lived from paycheck to paycheck, and in 2011, half of Americans reported that they wouldn't be able to come up with $2000 in an emergency without selling some possessions.

Families do not shop at Wal-Mart because they want cheap Coke. They shop at Wal-Mart because they want to be able to feed their children and keep the lights on every week of the year.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:57 PM on February 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


Families do not shop at Wal-Mart because they want cheap Coke. They shop at Wal-Mart because they want to be able to feed their children and keep the lights on every week of the year.

This is so true, and is a major part of why you address evil working conditions through regulations and inspections -- the same way we got rid of child labor. Should you have to investigate and remember which retailers use 10 year olds in their warehouses, in order to put your dollars towards moral employers, or should we simply make it illegal to hire little kids? (If your name is Newt, please don't answer, thanks.)

Food is historically extremely cheap. But a lot of people in the US are really being pinched financially, and their household budget is one of the only places they have any flexibility. You have to drive to work, so if gas goes up you grit your teeth and pay it, and find the savings in your shopping budget. And for a lot of people, that means buying from the cheapest place possible -- especially when they are selling a standardized product, like Coke, cheaper than everyone else.

How you could possibly tell what the warehouse and factory workers' conditions are by looking at the front end of a retailer, I have no idea. I couldn't begin to tell you what the supply chain is like for many of the products I buy at the grocery store. Some of them are probably pretty complicated -- I noticed the other day that something that I bought in the "Mexican and Hispanic" aisle was actually labeled in Portuguese, rather than Spanish. Does it come through a different supply chain than the Spanish-labeled products next to it? Do things on that aisle get handled at different warehouses than the Anglo products two aisles over?

Standing in the grocery store is not where labor issues are solved -- you solve those by having reasonable workplace laws and regulations, and making sure that federal and state oversight agencies receive adequate funding to enforce them.
posted by Forktine at 8:13 PM on February 28, 2012 [15 favorites]


Families do not shop at Wal-Mart because they want cheap Coke. They shop at Wal-Mart because they want to be able to feed their children and keep the lights on every week of the year.

I disagree. In my experience, people shop at Wal-Mart because They Want More Stuff For The Same Price. It's a problem with entitlement. People think they deserve to have stuff, and do not consider the impact of their purchases on their communties… or themselves.

the proliferation of Walmart Supercenters explains 11% of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s, but the resulting increase in medical expenditures offsets only a small portion of consumers’ savings from shopping at Supercenters. [citation]

If your argument about keeping the lights on was true, one would expect these cash-strapped people to eat the same, and spend less. However the data indicates that they are spending the same amount. I left the part about medical expenditures in so you see I am not trying to damn Wal-Mart.

This isn't even about Wal-Mart. It was said here before, it's about the value from increased efficiency going into the pockets of capital, whilst labour wages have stagnated. Your argument is that people are keeping the lights on. My argument is that they are enslaving themselves because they are buying shit they don't need.

It's like Groupon and LivingSocial. There is a very valid economic reason for businesses and consumers to use these tools. For a cafe, the ideal balance would be to lock in customers for 50% of the cafe at a level that covers costs, and then leave the other 50% of the cafe open to drop-in consumers for profit. When used as replacement spending, these new tools are very nifty.

But that's not how people seem to be using them. The "social deal" makes it okay for people to spend money they weren't going to spend. It's called "share of wallet" and all retailers try for the biggest share. In soviet russia, dinner shops for you.

The capital class gets richer, the middle class gets fatter, and those with no other option spend some time in The Warehouse. I shudder to think what the lovechild of Amazon and the Private Prison Corp will look like.

There's a great adage that comes from the gaming industry. "Always bet on the butcher, never bet on the pig." And the best pigs? The ones that think they're butchers.

And to the angry dude talking about four kids and the paper towels, I think you are angry about many things besides the paper towels. Like not having enough time to spend with your family. Jeff Bezos has enough time to spend with his family, thanks to your insistance it's easier to order online than to go to the Costco.

The problem is us. I must say, living in Europe, it is amazing how Americans refuse to admit that the problem is us. It's an easy concept. Shop where you like. You can buy paper towels from The Mafia if that's what you're keen on. But good jebus, until we as a collective people admit the problem is us things are going to continue to degrade.

Because all those newly obese people shopping at Wal-Mart, buying processed shit because there's one green grocer left in town -- it's the luxury place the rich cats go to -- are not saying the magic little words "the problem is us". They wanted cheap shit, they got cheap shit. They also got lower wages, less health care, and death spiral communities. Ah but that hangover came so long after the wave of cheap shit, I bet they forgot about the connection. So now it's Amazon's fault. Or maybe China. Is it China's fault? No. Trump said today that OPEC is after us. That must be it.

Because whatever the problem is, it must be out there. Because we deserve cheap shit. The problem can't be us. We're not pigs, we're butchers.

Wake the fuck up.

And just in case you care, I live a modest life in a foreign country making less money paying higher taxes. And we have national healthcare, higher quality food standards, employee protections (if you can find a job), and a variety of other social support mechanisms. I worked very hard to come here and to stay here because I do not like the direction the US was going, so I voted with my dollars -- I didn't agree, so I left.

So perhaps we can rephrase. The problem is you.
posted by nickrussell at 8:49 PM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


If anyone else wants to e-mail Amazon, they can do so here. I don't know if it'll do anything, but I figure that telling them that I intend to take my business elsewhere if they don't do anything about worker's issues in their warehouses, at the very least, can't hurt.
posted by ifranzen at 9:15 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where IS the USA labor movement?

Oppressed, subverted, and propagandized against by those who've always stood to gain the most.
posted by Twang at 9:18 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


(It became evident immediately after posting that last fellow that it's a bit aggressive. No offense is intended. I love America. It breaks my heart that a country with such abundance can simultaneously be so mean to so many of it's own people -- not to mention Pakistan wedding parties. It's like everything else, until you can identify the problem, you cannot solve it. And America as an entity does not recognise or admit that the way its conducting itself as a nation is mean and hurtful to those that need the most help.

I hope one day to return, but I cannot live in a country that funds the death of other countrys' people so well whilst deniest its own basic considerations like heathcare. That is not my truth.)
posted by nickrussell at 9:24 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


posted by vidur
Eponysterical (if you understand french).
posted by jchgf at 10:18 PM on February 28, 2012


And to the angry dude talking about four kids and the paper towels, I think you are angry about many things besides the paper towels. Like not having enough time to spend with your family.

Nope
. I don't have a lot of time to spend with myself or with my wife, but we each have a lot to spend with the kids. That's why we've chosen this schedule, rather than have our kids go to daycare (not that I have a problem with anyone who does that). I spend lots of time with my kids, and not only am I richer for that, but hopefully they will be too. What I'm angry at is being judged for my decisions by someone who knows nothing of my life or sacrifices or the other purchasing decisions that I make. I have nothing to prove to the author or anyone here, but I buy my tools from the local hardware store instead of the TWO big box hardware stores in town (or Walmart), I grow about half my food in the summer and buy most of the rest from local producers...etc. I do what I can in the way that I can. The idea that one has to be a martyr for every choice that they make is tiring, and when topped with self righteous clucking and finger wagging from the article and its fervent adherents is downright upsetting to me.
I guess that I'm mad because I see the problem and I understand it. I'm working my ass off. I sleep about 3-4 hours a night, so even if I don't have those working conditions, I feel for those folks. But the tone of the article and of some of those here is only going to make matters worse. You don't agree with the system? Make compelling arguments for change and present alternatives. Compel people to change. Don't browbeat them. Don't mock them. That's just bullying. It makes the people who are already doing what they can feel guilty for not doing more, and drives away the ones who you haven't reached yet. You don't change peoples' minds by telling them what shitty people they are. That's the hurdle that the environmental movement is just getting over in the US now. But look at what's happened over the past 15 years or so. Recycling is pervasive, organic is a option in many places, farmer's markets, hybrid vehicles, biofuels, etc...It's not there yet by a longshot but the ball is rolling in the right direction, and that didn't happen by being assholes to those that were ignorant of the benefits.
So in the meantime, I'll keep buying my paper towels from Amazon, because I fucking feel like it. What really matters though is that when I talk to people around town, I won't be telling them about that. I mean, I saved some money on paper towels. big fucking deal. What's there to talk about? What I'll be raving about is the time Rich from the hardware store let me in after he closed so I can get a part for my toilet, and how it didn't really cost any more than Home Depot, but even if it did it would have been worth it because of that favor - plus i didn't have to drive 20 minutes through traffic to get it for a dollar cheaper across town. Or how my decision to buy my glasses from the eyeglass place in town (which i could have found cheaper online) paid off when I bent the frame or popped the lens out and they fixed it right there and then for free. Show people the hidden value of local business like that. teach them to value their time by not spending 35 minutes to go to walmart to save $1 (Surely you don't value your time at $2 an hour?) Don't just tell them that they suck because they've haven't been shown (or reminded of) the benefits.
posted by horsemuth at 12:30 AM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I followed the feedback link above.
---------------
02/28/12 23:19:29
Your Name: Thomas Edward Topham
Comments:Been reading more about your warehouse setup and the way workers are treated. It is a very important part of my decision making process re. where to shop... until I hear about drastic changes regarding work conditions / workers' rights, you guys are on my "do not give them any money" list.

All the best,

Thomas Topham
---------------


Their response:
________

Hello,

I'd love to but, I was unable to determine the type of assistance you require from the content of your message.
We will be happy to assist you once we have a bit more information. Please write back to us with specific information if you have nay concerns or queries.

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MY VOICE HAS BEEN HEARD /not.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:30 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rest assured the amazon customer service reps are also held to absurdly high levels of throughput, and also everything they say and do is monitored and recorded. While the person who read your statement undoubtedly agreed with it, there'd be no surer way for them to be fired but to answer it any other way than they did. If you want to write a letter, address it on paper to Bezos, or better yet simply scratch it on the beach as the tide comes in. It'll have the same effect but hey: you're on the beach! Have an umbrella drink.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:23 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


nickrussell: "And that is a choice we all can make."

It seriously isn't. Not everyone lives in an area where there are things you could call local shops. And not everyone who shops at places like Walmart does so in order to over consume.

Furthermore, I disagree with your assessment of organic vs. fair trade. For one thing, fair trade food almost by defnition is not local, because you are talking about foods imported from a country where the norm is subsistence living and therefore not the UK or most of Europe. In contrast, organic food can be (but isn't always) local. And you're lucky if fair trade/organic food only engender a 10% markup in the UK. Here if you're choosing organic or fair trade, you're often paying almost twice as much for the same product.

I personally think it is much, much easier to shop humanely in the UK than it is the US. True, there are demand-side influences in play, but don't downplay the structural differences in the US which mean that there is far less transparency around our food, its quality, and its environmental and social impact. Overall, the cost of living in the US is less but from a comparison between my stay in the UK and living here I'd say it all evens out with the exception that apart from a few choice locales in the US the selection and quality of food in the UK is better and can be cheaper if you go to a street market, which are utterly non-existent in the US (farmer markets in the US are not street markets though they happen in the street. Talk about your luxury items.)
posted by Deathalicious at 6:27 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


tumid dahlia: "Or you could just, I dunno, dry your fucking pots with a kitchen towel."

Hey everybody, I've got an idea: let's all criticize people for buying things they want or need intead of focusing on the supplier who's mistreating the environement and its employees.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:17 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


nickrussell: "And just in case you care, I live a modest life in a foreign country making less money paying higher taxes. And we have national healthcare, higher quality food standards, employee protections (if you can find a job), and a variety of other social support mechanisms. I worked very hard to come here and to stay here because I do not like the direction the US was going, so I voted with my dollars -- I didn't agree, so I left.

So perhaps we can rephrase. The problem is you.
"

So what you're saying is because of your social and economic situation you were able to move to Europe and find a job there, and now you live in a location with significant systemic and structural advantages to the US if you want to live frugally but ecologically.

And sorry, but I highly doubt you make less money. The median household income in the US is around $40k or £25k. And remember, that's an entire household. So for an individual that's more like £12k. Is that what you're making? Because if you're making any more than that then you're making more than the median, which means you're making a lot more than the "newly obese" people who shop at Walmart regularly. Oh, and good job lumping in a value statement about overweight people and why they're overweight.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:38 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hey everybody, I've got an idea: let's all criticize people for buying things they want or need intead of focusing on the supplier who's mistreating the environement and its employees.

Actually, the things people want or think they need are exactly part of the problem, because capitalism perpetuates itself by creating solutions for things that weren't even problems. Saying that the stuff we want isn't part of the problem is short-sighted.
posted by liketitanic at 8:31 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Making The Service Economy Work
Can we fix housing by turning foreclosures into rentals?
---
cf. china's hukuo reform and social housing policy

also btw wrt top-down and bottom-up responses/approaches...
Rising Protests in China (Why is Tibet Important to China?)
China to address social problems in rural areas
Shanghai Raises Minimum Wage 13% as China Seeks to Boost Demand
Update: Minimum Wage Hikes Across China
Why China's Urbanization Isn't Creating a Middle Class
posted by kliuless at 8:33 AM on February 29, 2012


Actually, the things people want or think they need are exactly part of the problem, because capitalism perpetuates itself by creating solutions for things that weren't even problems. Saying that the stuff we want isn't part of the problem is short-sighted.
Please get back to us when you've completed work on your consumer mind-control ray.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:34 AM on February 29, 2012


When large corporations figure out ways to pay employees less, the problem is us.
When the banking system teeters on the edge of collapse, the problem is us.
When the political system is unresponsive to our needs, the problem is us.

I guess if you repeat it enough, it becomes true, no?
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 8:36 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hey everybody, I've got an idea: let's all criticize people for buying things they want or need intead of focusing on the supplier who's mistreating the environement and its employees.

Let's also criticize the people for buying things they want or need who simply don't give two shits whether or not a supplier mistreats the environment or its employees.

And let's also criticize all the people who spout "free markets" and "government interference" and end up electing all the dipshits who refuse to write good labor law and who underfund all the essential organizations who police this sort of corporate misbehavior.

'Cause lord knows there are a cockbucket full of them. Cockbuckets and cockbuckets, actually.

In my opinion, people usually shop at Wal-Mart because:

a) they don't have any other choice - i.e. the only location in 20-30 miles or more than sells what they want
b) they want something at a cheap price
c) selection - they prefer the products at Wal-Mart to products at other stores

I agree that the problem is us, and not just the U.S. The problem is anyone who thinks that lower prices are always better, without caring about sourcing or other external factors. It seems like that's been the firm position of the US population from 1929-now, and most of the world has joined the train.

I have certainly been an Amazon customer in the past, simply for reasons 1 and 3 (convenience and selection), although I've always made it a point not to buy books there. Perhaps the moratorium should be expanded.

It's pretty amazing when you think about how much Amazon has destroyed some pretty considerable brick & mortar industries. Where can you buy a new (non-pirated) DVD in downtown San Francisco? ... Rasputin's is all I got, and their selection is not huge ... where else in greater downtown aside from Best Buy on Harrison? Nowhere.

How about toys? I know Jeffrey's, and maybe there's one in the Embarcadero, but very, very slim. It is certainly a slap in the face to read about what has likely happened to those former local merchants.

I shudder to think what the lovechild of Amazon and the Private Prison Corp will look like.

That was the first vision I had when I read the story. Amazon is eventually going to be powered by debt prisoners who can't pay their Amazon bills.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:38 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a consumer mind-control ray.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:40 AM on February 29, 2012


Please get back to us when you've completed work on your consumer mind-control ray.

I'm sorry that you're unable to go through the personal calculation of whether you need a silicone drying mat for your kitchen, so seduced have you been by advertising for this lifesaving technology.
posted by liketitanic at 8:43 AM on February 29, 2012


I'm sorry that you're unable to go through the personal calculation of whether you need a silicone drying mat for your kitchen, so seduced have you been by advertising for this lifesaving technology.

I wouldn't throw stones unless you don't own an apple corer, ice-cream scooper, bottle opener, plastic cups, apron, sponge, dishwasher, cheese grater, salad spinner, toaster, etc. etc.

I mean, why don't use just use your hands to drink and make your toast in the oven?
posted by mrgrimm at 8:52 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


My point being that we're all BORGed from birth. Pointing out the more ludicrous examples of consumerism without acknowledging the key problem doesn't address the problem.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:53 AM on February 29, 2012


And that is a choice we all can make.

No, it's not. For many Americans they have to buy whatever is cheapest, as they cannot afford anything else. I, for one, am not going to blame the poorest people for everything wrong with corporate America and how workers are treated.

I do the majority of my grocery shopping at a local Mom and Pop store, because the service is excellent. It is hard, as it is more expensive, and there are weeks, when I have to go avoid it and go to Walmart for everything.

When it comes down to making sure we are fed, clothed, have our medications (I'm on many) and a roof over our head, I'll damn well go to Walmart, and I'm sorry that community has to suffer, but should I sacrifice my family's well being?
posted by SuzySmith at 9:00 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


My point being that we're all BORGed from birth. Pointing out the more ludicrous examples of consumerism without acknowledging the key problem doesn't address the problem.

I guess it's not possible to do both, is it? Or do I need to reiterate the content of the other 218 comments in the thread before I'm entitled to do it?
posted by liketitanic at 9:25 AM on February 29, 2012


I have that silicone drying mat and it really is pretty great. I use it for drying things that would be awkward to dry with a towel, like paintbrushes, cutting boards, and the colander, and it protects the counter.

Can we pick a different item to be the symbol of all that is wrong with American consumerism? I vote for the 3-Piece Chrome Wine Bottle Topper Set with Clear Stand, or possibly the Black and white cow steering wheel cover (sadly, it's just cover for a car's steering wheel).
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:26 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


liketitanic: "Hey everybody, I've got an idea: let's all criticize people for buying things they want or need intead of focusing on the supplier who's mistreating the environement and its employees.

Actually, the things people want or think they need are exactly part of the problem, because capitalism perpetuates itself by creating solutions for things that weren't even problems. Saying that the stuff we want isn't part of the problem is short-sighted.
"

Okay you know what? Apart from nuts, berries, water, and caves (oh and "health care"), there's nothing that humans "need". Nonetheless we have civilization and the different things that civilization entails. 20 years ago computers were absolute luxories. Today they're still luxories in the larger scheme but you are not going to argue strongly when someone tells you that they "need" to buy a computer.

I don't think having things like paper towels or drying racks or even heavens forbid cell phones or color TeeVees is necessarily a bad thing and I also think it's possible while giving employees a living wage and providing them with decent working conditions.

Capitalism and the free market are actually great tools of innovation. Adam Smith's pencil or even a cheeseburger are things that the free market does really well. It should be the role of government to make sure that the trees used for wood are sustainably harvested, that the extraction of graphite does not cause environmental degradation, that the cows are kept healthy and treated humanely, and that the guy flipping burgers is paid a living wage. I seriously cannot understand the people in this thread who keep insisting that the solution is to not have or want things. Surely these people also have things and buy things? So really we're getting into a pissing match over "I require fewer things to be happy" or "I have more disposable time than you" or even "I make more money than you and can afford to shop at more expensive places, but I'm going to ignore that as a factor and just think I'm better than you".

If i want to blow my hard earned dough on something, I should be able to buy it wherever I want and it should be the responsibility of a decent government and society to ensure that the mechanisms providing me that object did so in the most decent manner possible. It shouldn't be up to consumers to go through the extremely tedious work of researching which vendors are and aren't humane, environmental, and sustainable.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:29 AM on February 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm sorry that community has to suffer, but should I sacrifice my family's well being?

That would be one of those enduring philosophical questions, eh?

For many Americans they have to buy whatever is cheapest

I really don't buy this argument either. I'm firmly convinced most people are buying too much shit. Not just rich people, not just poor people--everyone (essentially). Maybe not you, maybe you are that rare consumer who buys no luxuries or non-essential items whatsoever, but we all do it, at least to some extent.

It seems like switching to Wal-Mart for certain things can only save you but so much, especially if you're not buying many things or expensive items. The difference between Wal-Mart and local grocery is what ... $10 a trip, or $500 a year? Cable TV is $X; Internet service is $X; alcohol is $X. How many people cut off their cable or Internet or stop drinking before they resort to shopping at Wal-Mart? How important is cable tv, internet, or alcohol to a family's "well-being." ... it's not easy.

But I would say that people save money when they stop buying things, not when they start shopping at Wal-Mart. And when most people say they shop at Wal-Mart to save money, they mean they have more money to spend elsewhere.

I know it's all personal bias and conjecture here, but I know plenty of people (including my parents) who shop at Wal-Mart. I've been to Wal-Mart plenty. My background is middle class, but I've seen all ranges of people buying all sorts of non-essential items at Wal-Mart. So what? Well, so what about consumerism again ...
posted by mrgrimm at 9:29 AM on February 29, 2012


I seriously cannot understand the people in this thread who keep insisting that the solution is to not have or want things.

Of course not. The solution is to not have or to want too many or the wrong things. How much is "too many" and what is "wrong?" It depends.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:33 AM on February 29, 2012


Or, you know, unions.
posted by brokkr at 9:33 AM on February 29, 2012


It seems like switching to Wal-Mart for certain things can only save you but so much, especially if you're not buying many things or expensive items. The difference between Wal-Mart and local grocery is what ... $10 a trip, or $500 a year? Cable TV is $X; Internet service is $X; alcohol is $X. How many people cut off their cable or Internet or stop drinking before they resort to shopping at Wal-Mart? How important is cable tv, internet, or alcohol to a family's "well-being." ... it's not easy.

I save more than that in a year from buying at Walmart and that is with buying a lot locally. As for getting rid of things, again, it should be put on the back of the lower class people to do this, so they can have food, and not support the big corporations, right?

So, we take away the internet from the lower middle class and they have less access to everything from news to friends to jobs. No more wine or beer, either, as you should spend that money locally. Oh, come on, that's ridiculous, you cannot expect those with the least to fix things caused by those with the most.

It is the large companies that are doing this shit, make it illegal. Force things to change from the top, not the bottom. Those of us down here do not have any pull, if I stop shopping at Walmart (or Target, or Amazon, etc) how much does that do to them? Not very much at all, but it does hurt my family's bottom line.

You also have to think, where do the goods come from, even if you buy locally? I go to the local grocery and buy the same bread I can buy at Walmart (whole grain, no corn syrup) and it costs 3.99 at the local store. It comes from the same factory as the bread I buy at Walmart, same brand, same whole grain, no corn syrup, bread for $2.38 a loaf.

I can use that 1.61 to buy more groceries, or as part of a medicine copay, or part of a gallon of gas, or into savings. Either way the factory it came from is the same, so it doesn't change how those workers are treated. All it does is hurt us.

What would you do in that situation? Are you poor enough that 1.61 does make a difference? I'd say many of us here on MeFi are, and would have to think twice on where to buy our bread in that situation. I wish I could always do what is best for my community, but, I can't do a damn thing if we can't afford to live in our community!
posted by SuzySmith at 9:53 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, I'm taking the contrarian personal-responsibility thing here a bit far for effect.

Of course we need strong organized labor unions, and strong federal labor laws that support them.

As for getting rid of things, again, it should be put on the back of the lower class people to do this, so they can have food, and not support the big corporations, right?

And of course not. The practical problems with overconsumption occur at the top and middle levels, not among the lower class; my point is that the philosophical problem of overconsumption affects everyone and everyone contributes to it.

And I'm not challenging your personal claims at all. I am sure some people desperately need the price savings Wal-Mart provides on essential items. I just don't think they make up a significant part of Wal-Mart's user base. After all, though the extremely poor are now hitting the suburbs, it seems like most of the poorest Americans wouldn't live near Wal-Marts or wouldn't own the cars needed to drive there.

What would you do in that situation? Are you poor enough that 1.61 does make a difference?

I'm not that poor right now, but I certainly have been, and I would probably do the exact same thing as you and buy the cheaper bread from Wal-Mart.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:18 AM on February 29, 2012


I am looking through the eyes of a lower class person, who lives in a rural area, so cars are a must have or else you just don't work. Also, I can drive 4 miles to the Mom and Pop or 11 miles to Walmart, although that has just changed as it used to be much farther to Walmart.

The 1.61 is just one item as well, a lot of things are cheaper at Walmart and I do keep price books to compare the stores that are convenient to me. I also save a shopping list for when I go to the city closest to us to buy the things that are cheaper at Target when I am there.

Doing this saved us close to 1600 dollars in 2011 according to our budgeting and comparisons. That is a huge difference and to most people around, 1600 is well worth the tradeoff.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:19 AM on February 29, 2012


I was watching TV last night when an ad for Bunnings came up. Their insistance that "lowest prices are just the beginning" took a sinister meaning in the light of the article and this thread. I also discovered that Chaser did a spoof on them that has the employee seek permission from a supervisor for going to the bathroom. And that's from 2007. In Australia.
posted by vidur at 11:23 AM on February 29, 2012


The people that are driving the race to the bottom in the US (corporate America and their lobbyists, etc) are traitors. That's what they are. Traitors to the American people, who hate America and are encouraging policies that are destroying the livelihoods of millions of our fellow Americans.
posted by wuwei at 1:09 PM on February 29, 2012


An interesting thing to me is how one goes about fixing the problem at this warehouse and at the other businesses like it. A strong labour union would of course be a good solution but the deck is stacked so much against union formation that even if all the workers were in favour it would be a non starter. You'd have to also have the buy in from all the unemployed people in the area.

Some obvious changes could make things better though:
posted by Mitheral at 4:37 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually vidur, Bunnings has been commended for employing older staff. And they have minimum wage protection, currently $18 an hour (US readers please note, that's about $19 US) and the Shoppies Union (Joe de Bruyn, ugh) are free to operate there. I always get a pleasant, not artificial person at the checkout, and if you can ever find a helper (they are badly understaffed) they do seem to be able to give you the time of day. So it's not really like the Amazon experience described, is it?
posted by wilful at 4:51 PM on February 29, 2012


So it's not really like the Amazon experience described, is it?

I guess the lesson for me here is to not form opinions based on Chaser's spoofs. Thanks.

I know, of course, that Australia has far better employment conditions than US. Else, the titans of Australian industry wouldn't complain so much about productivity. I recently (socially) met with the CEO of a major cafe chain who was fantasizing about having American labour conditions in Australia (loading seemed to be his biggest complaint among a laundry list of issues).
posted by vidur at 5:13 PM on February 29, 2012


How about the shitstorm when that awful George Calombaris complained about Sunday loading? He got smacked down quite successfully.

Anyway, back to the central debate of this thread. I say now, as I said at the outset, that the main issue is simply working conditions, which have historically been promoted and protected by unions or other collective action. I don't think that going back to a fantasy of local high street shopping is particularly relevant, or possible these days, but I do think that better working conditions in these sorts of places is possible and ought to be fought for.
posted by wilful at 5:33 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Looks like Occupy shut down some Wal-Mart distro centers in Southern California:
http://www.salon.com/2012/03/02/occupy_invades_americas_storage_shed/


"Iorio says an organizing project called the Warehouse Workers United “came to the Occupy movement for support. The shutdown was our idea.”
posted by wuwei at 6:39 PM on March 1, 2012


Vidur - personally I prefer the Newstopia Spoofs


But yes, unions. Shit, I'm now a highly paid academic, but the only reason my job exists is because my union forced it to exist, and when I was a lowly paid (relative to the job I was doing) sessional tutor (TA in American English), it again would have been a lot worse if not for the readiness of my unionised full time colleagues to tell the management to go fuck themselves on my behalf.

Basically - If academics need a union, pretty much everyone does.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 10:38 PM on March 2, 2012


And as a former member of the SDA, Joe not withstanding, they are a pretty effective union.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 10:48 PM on March 2, 2012


But yes, unions. Shit, I'm now a highly paid academic, but the only reason my job exists is because my union forced it to exist, and when I was a lowly paid (relative to the job I was doing) sessional tutor (TA in American English), it again would have been a lot worse if not for the readiness of my unionised full time colleagues to tell the management to go fuck themselves on my behalf.

A friend of mine with a recent Ph.D. has explained to me the academic hiring process, and it's one of the most abusive things I've ever heard.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:35 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The academic hiring process is absolutely completely abusive, both in America and the UK.

Hertford College Oxford recently advertised a job for a person asked to do essentially full time work on graduate teaching and supervision and examining, plus admin and pastoral care, plus teaching for the college for 4 hours a week, plus preparing and giving 8 lectures to the faculty - for £11,623 a year. That's about $18,000. For a full-time job. At Oxford.

They will probably still get a lot of applicants.

By comparison, a starting management consultant - somebody whose job is essentially justifying decisions management already wanted to take - gets a starting salary of £40,000+ - which is about $127,000. For coming up with sketchy, shallow research in a ridiculously short time frame with a lot of hand-waving and bullshitting.

Why should someone whose analysis is shoddy and short-term and disposable and vapid - and I have seen the work of even the best management consultants and it is almost invariably all those things, because of the conditions under which these intelligent people work - why should such a person be paid four times as much as someone who will be teaching classic works to a new generation and engaging in the transmission of culture of timeless, enormous value? Or someone who is researching the way the universe actually works and expanding the sum of human knowledge?

It is crazy for us to carry on this way. The values that underpin this situation - that create this situation, in fact, because it is created, it is not the natural outcome of some "market" (as if such a thing ever existed anywhere) - those values are insane.
posted by lucien_reeve at 9:17 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


lucien_reeve: "Why should someone whose analysis is shoddy and short-term and disposable and vapid - and I have seen the work of even the best management consultants and it is almost invariably all those things, because of the conditions under which these intelligent people work - why should such a person be paid four times as much as someone who will be teaching classic works to a new generation and engaging in the transmission of culture of timeless, enormous value? Or someone who is researching the way the universe actually works and expanding the sum of human knowledge?"

Because they're directly backing up those in power.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:29 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's about $18,000. For a full-time job. At Oxford.

.... By comparison, a starting management consultant - somebody whose job is essentially justifying decisions management already wanted to take - gets a starting salary of £40,000+ - which is about $127,000.


The real insanity of the situation is that trash collectors--an essential job if there ever was one--often make less than both.

It's really not fun to compare this to the Jesse Thorn piece. One is about following your dreams and this one pretty much makes you want to die reading it. It also reminds me to never, ever, ever quit my job, for fear that I may end up with no other option than one of these places.

You see the irony there, no? (Emphasis mine.)
posted by mrgrimm at 8:44 AM on March 5, 2012


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