What Is A Water Spider At Amazon?

The Secret Lives of Amazon’s Elves

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If Amazon is Santa, 400 folks living in RVs outside the Coffeyville, Kansas fulfillment center this winter are the elves.

A few years back Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard flipped the bird to their desk jobs, packed their belongings in a custom 17-foot solar-powered fiberglass camper, and hit the road to live «at the intersection of Epic and Awesome.» A couple months ago, while staying with friends, they noticed that Amazon was luring RVers to Coffeyville, Kansas, the site of the retail giant’s original and largest fulfillment center.

«We were located in San Diego at the time,» explained Cherie. «We’re part of a community of younger full-time RVers on Nurvers.com , a group of non-retired-age folks who are living the mobile lifestyle and kind of going outside the norms of ‘Wait for retirement to travel.'» They noticed other RVers were flocking to Kansas to work for Amazon. The pay wasn’t great—just above $10-an-hour, typically—but Chris and Cherie were planning on being in St. Louis for the holidays. Why not kill a month in Kansas working for Amazon?

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and the self-styled «technomads» were putting down stakes at a state park about 20 miles from the four enormous but dull warehouses that comprise the Coffeyville hub.

Their first day inside, Chris was awed. «Walking inside reminded me of the scene from Indiana Jones when they abandon the Ark in that giant warehouse. It’s three stories high. It feels like an industrial library. Shelves going up and up and up.» Hundreds of employees scurried, some «orange-badges» or «green-badges» hired by two temporary employment services mixed with the sought-after blue-badges of full-time Amazon employees, guided to their next destination by computers that flashed lights when bins were full or guided workers through the maze with handheld computers. «Pickers are basically playing a human Pac-Man game. They’ve got a computer scanner that they carry around that tells them where to go. They find their little shelf. One slot might be a book. The next shelf over might be a toaster. Or an iPod. The next slot after that might be a pair of jeans.»

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Amazon didn’t always lure in «workcampers» from the RV community.

«From what the agency people had told us, Amazon had a bad experience busing in people from Tulsa,» says Chris. «There was a lot of theft and a lot of people who weren’t really serious about the job.»

Workers from Tulsa were adding a 4-hour round-trip commute to an already grueling 10-to-12 hour shift, Cherie is quick to add. «They’d get there exhausted.»

Enter the workcampers, people making a go at living in their RVs full time—many of whom might be otherwise overqualified. «I think Amazon was skeptical at first,» says Cherie. «But after the first trial year they were very, very impressed. Workcampers came in enthusiastic about working, since most are professionals. We’ve owned businesses or been managers.» White collar workers, trying their hand at the gypsy life. Even better, the workcampers were able to stay locally.

Not all of the camps provided for the workcampers were exactly inviting.

Chris and Cherie pulled into the one just before Thanksgiving, but could tell it wouldn’t make for a pleasant stay. «The closest one was a city park called Walter Johnson. RVs were very close together. Half the campsites had full hookups, which meant they had water, electricity, and sewer dump on-site. Half the sites just had electricity and water and they had what they call a ‘Honey Wagon’ that comes around and pumps your sewage out a few times a week.» Some RVers had been in Coffeyville since August.

Worse, it was cramped and muddy. «Coffeyville also had a flood three years ago, so it was very, very wet and muddy because the area had been washed out, then rained on recently.» They eventually moved on to a state park, which was lovely, but also four times farther away. They rarely had time to enjoy the scenery.

«We were on the night shift,» says Chris, «Our day would start when we would wake up at three in the afternoon. Work started at five.»

«Every shift starts with what they call a ‘Stand Up.’ You gather in one area with your usual department—ours was called ‘Sortable Singles,’ which sounds like it should be the name of a dating site—and they’d count off how many people they needed in each department. Run through a few announcements. Give you a few safety tips. And then they lead you through five minutes of group stretches.»

Cherie was mainly a packer, putting items in the box and scanning them. Chris, on the other hand, was a «water spider.» He explains, «A water spider is responsible for keeping all the packers supplied, so ideally they’d never need to stand up and leave their station to get any other supplies like all the different sizes of boxes, plus making sure their tape machines and paper-spitter machines are operating.»

«I never quite exactly figured out why they call it a water spider. My guess is back in the history of assembly line jobs, the water spider would be the person who would bring people on the line water to drink. Nobody seemed to know!»

The Mocha Factory

Work was monotonous and—for a couple who had been living a relative life of leisure—full of endless hours of standing on one’s feet.

«24-Hour Fitness, Amazon-style,» laughs Chris. Cherie liked to think of it as having «a personal trainer for 60 hours a week.»

Inside the warehouses, machines and man alike were controlled by Amazon’s computerized assembly line.

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In one part of the factory, Chris watched two giant elliptical carousels, each one the size of a football field, carry wooden trays around at 15mph. «All the items are coming in the totes on one side of this giant machine. There are people who take each individual item, scan them and put them on the trays as they go by. The trays get to a chute where their order is being assembled, tilt, and the product flies down into that space. When all the items for a particular order are assembled in one place an orange light comes on and somebody comes by.» Above, another carousel brought an endless procession of empty boxes to be filled with the orders.

It wasn’t exactly what Cherie had envisioned. «When we told people were going to do this, someone said ‘Whenever I click the order button on Amazon, I always imagine a chorus of happy, singing Oompa-Loompas riding around on Segways and shipping my stuff.’ Well. no. It’s not exactly like that.»

«The computer has to prioritize how it’s going to send out all the pickers in this giant facility. So someone could order a book and a sweater and an iPod, and those could be in completely different corners of the whole facility. But somehow they all arrive within about 30 minutes of each other.» It’s efficiency even Willy Wonka could love.

Chris and Cherie wouldn’t work another season at Coffeyville, but not because they were miserable. «Everybody treated each other really nicely!» says Chris. It’s just that the two are «experience junkies, craving the new,» even if working for Amazon certainly gave them a fresh perspective on American culture.

«You’d have a tote come down the line, and you’d have adult toys right next to kid toys in the same bin,» laughs Cherie. «The Obama Chia Pet was an oddity. And the Bill Clinton corkscrew . And I did have a tote one afternoon that was full of mooning gnomes .»

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Chris geeked on it pretty hard. (Before he became an migrant worker, Chris was a founding editor for boot magazine —later known as Maximum PC . He also worked for Palm.) «Just getting to experience that type of work, to literally see consumer culture flow beneath your fingertips, was absolutely fascinating. You feel the pulse of the market.»

Besides their paychecks, all they’re left with are memories—cameras weren’t allowed inside.

«One of the rules at Amazon is that you’re not allowed to bring anything into the facility that they sell.» Chris went through a bit of withdrawal. «One of the hardest things about the job was going without my iPhone for a month. It was a great way to break the addiction of wanting to Twitter about things. You’d be like, ‘Oh my God, I just saw this Bill Clinton corkscrew and you won’t believe where the corkscrew comes out.’ But oh crap, I can’t tweet.»

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What Is A Water Spider At Amazon?

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Employee Review

«Stower — Water Spider»

I worked at Amazon full-time for more than 3 years

A paycheck that is it.

If Amazon thinks they are building a workforce, they are totally wrong. For all the people that Amazon places in jobs, there are more that leave or get terminated because they had a bad day and did n’t keep up the number. Amazon is not helping the economy they are contributing to the employment figures. I was there for three years, they got rid of me because I didn’t perform when they moved me to a different position, I had a hearing but nobody called me back. There was no one left in my hiring group when I was terminated. As a matter of fact, there was nobody left from many of the hiring groups after me. HR are robots who process and terminate people continuously everyday

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«Best place to e»

I have been working at Amazon full-time for more than a year

Benefits in this company are great

Independent contribution expectation is high

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«You Get What You Put In»

I have been working at Amazon full-time

Really smart people, a lot of opportunity for growth, always encouraged to be innovative, think big, and create something new. Competitive salary and benefits with other major tech companies. 100% self motivating work environment. No dress code and 4 legged friends are welcome.

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You have to be self motivated. NO ONE will hold your hand and tell you that you’re doing a great job. If you need constant affirmations from management, this company isn’t for you.

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Amazon Warehouse Employees’ Message to Jeff Bezos — We Are Not Robots

Sep 29, 2017 5:48 PM EDT

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) — Get Report has mastered convenience, fast shipping and exceptional customer service and, in doing so, some of its warehouse workers say the e-commerce behemoth has made their lives hell.

On Sept. 20, the Huffington Post U.K. reported that some workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Rugeley, England, take home less than the minimum wage, despite working 10-hour shifts, after paying a daily €8 ($9.53) «bus benefit» to one of the e-tailer’s third-party partners. To be sure, Amazon said employees can choose to commute to work however they please.

While fulfillment center workers in the U.S. are paid around $11 an hour or higher, according to Glassdoor, well above the national minimum wage of $7.25, the hours are still long; the work, strenuous, and the expectations, according to some, unrealistic.

TheStreet interviewed two former Amazon warehouse workers and one current employee from three separate fulfillment centers in New Jersey. Here’s what they had to say.

From a current employee at Amazon’s Florence, N.J., warehouse, who spoke to TheStreet under the condition of anonymity.

«I feel that Amazon sees its employees just as bodies and does not truly value the work they do,» the employee said.

The employee, a «fulfillment associate» and «ambassador,» works 10 and a half hours a day, four days a week, and is given two 15-minute unpaid breaks and one 30-minute unpaid lunch break.

The worker claimed that Amazon does not allow its employees to sit while on the clock and that workers have been fired for doing so. An Amazon spokeswoman denied this claim and TheStreet could not verify it.

«People are focused on how much their feet, legs, backs hurt them from the strain,» the employee said. «Breaks should be much longer, especially since they believe in nobody resting or sitting unless it’s break time, even if there is nothing to do or your job is done.»

An Amazon spokeswoman wrote in an email to TheStreet on Friday, Sept. 29, «Employees are able to sit if they feel the need to at any time and we have multiple break areas within a short distance to employee work areas.»

On its website, Amazon writes that fulfillment associates help pick, pack and ship customer orders; must be able to lift up to 49 pounds; must be able to stand and walk for 10 to 12 hours and may be required to use «radio frequency scanners» and powered equipment, like a forklift, to receive and move products.

The employee claimed to have received a recent promotion, taking on the title of an ambassador. The worker said the position was a disappointment as it came with more responsibility, such as training new hires, but no additional pay. Amazon confirmed that the «promotion» does not come with a raise but that workers are made aware of this before they are offered it.

Amazon does give its employees a 50-cent-per-hour raise every six months and the chance to receive a monthly bonus, based on personal attendance and exceeding production goals. The worker said the Florence warehouse is, on average, expected to push out 600,000 items a day.

«A lot of times we exceed goals but our productivity rate is not high enough to get a full bonus which doesn’t make sense,» the worker said. «We meet and exceed our goals constantly and as a reward we get a ‘congratulations’ or ‘swag bucks,’ which is basically Monopoly money that we can use in the Swag Store [which sells Amazon merchandise].»

For competitive reasons, Amazon declined to go into detail about the goals the company sets.

From a former employee at Amazon’s Carteret, N.J., warehouse, who spoke to TheStreet under the condition of anonymity.

The former employee claimed to have «clocked 15 miles a day» while working 10 and a half hour shifts, four days a week, as a «water spider,» a person who supplies the people who pack products to be shipped to customers. Sometimes, the person said that Amazon would force employees to work a fifth day during the week — allegedly called «mandatory overtime.»

Amazon declined to comment on record about overtime shifts.

The former worker said at least one Amazon manager is always manning the floor, ready to write up employees on an Apple Inc. (AAPL) — Get Report iPad, and reprimand them if they fail to pack 120 items per hour — the alleged goal set by Amazon. If a worker does meet the goal, the former employee said a manager will instruct them to «do 140.» If they don’t meet the goal, they could have to work the extra fifth day.

The former employee said if workers don’t take on the «mandatory overtime» shift, 10 hours can be cut from their vacation time to make up for it. Amazon declined to comment on record about this claim.

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«They know exactly who you are and what you are doing at all times,» the person said of managers. «Sometimes you can sit for 30 seconds and not get caught. Sometimes one minute and not get caught.»

This former worker, too, claimed that employees are not allowed to sit on company time. «Caught» could mean that a manager will yell at an employee and then «write something» on their iPad that goes into his or her record, according to the person.

«You can be released at any time,» the former employee said. «They won’t even tell you that you’re fired. One day, you just show up and your ID card doesn’t swipe into the building.»

The person claimed to have left Amazon this summer amicably and would consider going back if money got tight. «It’s a job, it’s not a career,» the former employee added.

From Vincent Tortora, a former worker at Amazon’s Robbinsville, N.J., warehouse.

«It was definitely a demanding job,» Tortora told TheStreet.

Tortora was employed as a water spider and a «stower,» people who stow inventory, at Amazon from April to July of this year, when he said he left to take a job as a butcher. During his time in the warehouse, Tortora said he worked 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. EDT, Monday through Thursday, and received two scheduled 15-minute breaks at 8:15 p.m. and 2:30 a.m., one unpaid and one paid, and one half-hour unpaid «lunch» break at 11:10 p.m.

«Water spidering, I was exhausted,» Tortora said. «Stowing not so much. I feel like the company itself, with rates you need to hit and all that, treats you like a robot. The managers and people in charge don’t.»

Tortora said while water spidering, he gauged on his smart phone that he’d «walk a minimum of 25,000 steps in one shift alone, dragging heavy pallets down an entire floor and lifting heavy boxes on their racks.» Although less physically exhausting, as a stower Tortora carried the fear of being written up if he didn’t scan fast enough, he added.

The New York Times recently provided an inside view into how Amazon’s Florence fulfillment center operates, in which it deploys robots to work alongside employees, relieving some of their work. But, the employees that The Street interviewed agreed that even with robots, the work is no less exhausting.

«Amazon’s fulfillment centers offer great, full-time jobs and an opportunity for employees to learn new skills and help further develop a career,» Amazon said in a statement to TheStreet on Friday, Sept. 22. «Like most companies, we have performance expectations for every Amazon employee and we measure actual performance against those expectations. Fulfillment center roles are active positions that involve standing, walking, lifting and bending.»

The company added that it provides its workers with a host of benefits from day one, including health insurance, a retirement savings plan and company stock. In the email statement from Amazon on Friday, Sept. 29, the spokeswoman also wrote: «Throughout the year, Amazon has provided monthly bonuses to tens of thousands of qualified hourly employees across the U.S. based on achieving their goals.»

While the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division requires that a company pay its employees at least the minimum wage for each hour they work, it does not detail requirements for worker breaks under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Other employee complaints have morphed into lawsuits, fines.

On Jan. 12, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration slapped Amazon’s Robbinsville fulfillment center with a $7,000 fine for not reporting «26 instances of work-related injuries and illnesses.» Upon an investigation into the warehouse’s working conditions, the department found that «the company exposed employees to ergonomic risk factors, including stress from repeated bending at the waist and repeated exertions, and standing during entire shifts up to 10 hours, four days a week and sometimes including mandatory overtime shifts.»

Briana Henson, one ex-employee, took Amazon to court, claiming she was unjustly fired for having a disability.

Henson, a «picker» at Amazon’s Robbinsville warehouse from June 9, 2015, to July 15, 2016, sued Amazon in March 2017 for $75,000 in the Superior Court of the State of New Jersey in Burlington County. She alleged in court papers that after she was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in early 2016, she requested a transfer, to avoid the heavy lifting needed to be a picker.

On July 11, 2016, Henson said in court papers that she was denied the chance to take on another position and Amazon put her on paid leave. Shortly thereafter, Henson said she got a phone call from an Amazon supervisor who questioned her inability to work. Henson was fired on July 15, 2016, according to court filings. The case is ongoing.

Amazon declined to comment on the case as it is pending.

Nonetheless, Amazon is in high demand as an employer. Last month, crowds lined up outside Amazon’s Robbinsville fulfillment center to land one of 1,500 open positions at the company’s four New Jersey warehouses. The hiring event was part of the company’s larger Amazon Jobs Day, in which it hired 50,000 people nationwide.

Amazon announced last week its plans to create 2,000 new jobs in New York City and open a Manhattan office in 2018. Earlier this month, Amazon revealed it was searching for a second headquarters in North America, where it will employ another 50,000 workers.

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