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Amazon fufillment warehouse in Madrid, Spain. Photo from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Amazon_locations

Many jobs at Amazon Fulfillment Centers are physically demanding

By BECKY GILLETTE
mbj@msbusiness.com

In late December, Amazon announced that it will be locating its first Amazon Fulfillment Center in Mississippi in Marshall County creating 850 full-time jobs paying a minimum of $15 per hour plus benefits. The fulfillment center will cover 554,000 square feet of space that will be used to store, pick, pack and ship items such as lawn and garden products, toiletries, and other household consumer goods.

Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Glenn McCullough, Jr. said Mississippi’s teamwork at the federal, state and local levels, Marshall County’s proximity to a distribution hub and the region’s skilled workforce were instrumental in Amazon’s decision to locate its new fulfillment center at the Chickasaw Trails Industrial Park, which is located about 27 miles from the Memphis International Airport.

Currently there is no timeline for opening the facility.

“At this time, we do not have specific information to share regarding positions at the fulfillment center,” said Brenda Alfred, the PR manager supporting Amazon operations in Mississippi. “However, anyone interested in opportunities in Marshall County and elsewhere should visit amazondelivers.jobs in the future to see available jobs.”

Benefits include comprehensive healthcare insurance, a 401(k) savings program with a 50 percent match, and up to 20 weeks paid parental leave. Amazon’s also has a Career Choice program, which pre-pays 95 percent of tuition for courses in high-demand fields.

Alfred said the new fulfillment center in Marshall County will not be a robotic center. It will depend on employees to collect goods and deliver them to packaging and shipping areas.

Some of the jobs are pretty physically demanding.

“The physical aspect of jobs in our fulfilment centers vary based on the role and the type of building,” Alfred said. “Generally, fulfillment center jobs are active jobs. Some roles require walking and physical activity, but others are stationary such as working in receiving or on a pack line. We work with employees to ensure they are in a role that suits them.”

Stephen Harrison of Ocean Springs is a former Amazon employee. Three years ago, he drove his RV up to Murfreesboro, Tenn., to work during the busy holiday season.

“I was in the camper force,” said Harrison, who came out of retirement to take the temporary job. “We were provided space at an RV park. They hire a lot of temps during heavy season. Overall, it was a positive experience. I’m glad I did it. I think if I had to do it again, I might not do the job I volunteered for before because it was the most physically demanding job. I was a picker.”

He said picking involves walking, bending over, stooping and lifting working in an area about the size of a football field. The computer routes workers where to pick items. When people order multiple items, Amazon tries to send it in one shipment. One item may be in one area and another far across the building.

“Picking those kinds of units, you might be all over the place,” Harrison said. “In a way it was kind of good because after picking and bending, it feels good to go from one end of the building to the other.”

Harrison said regular Amazon workers were supposed to pick 100 items an hour. He said that was difficult to achieve, and the camper force was asked to pick 75 items an hour.

“They knew we were older and couldn’t compete with the younger ones,” Harrison said. “The camper force average age was about 55. It was set up for people who RV full-time and work on the road. The camper force workers were responsible, showed up when we were supposed to, and didn’t call in sick.”

However, he said if a temporary employee wanted to be considered for permanent hire, then they really have to work hard and meet their quotas to be considered.

Before taking the job, he had the idea that Amazon was this high-tech operation that was very automated.

“But you pull curtain back and you see all of these hundreds and hundreds of worker ants doing the manual picking and sorting,” he said. “Out of the whole operation, the only thing I saw that was automatic was the conveyer belt.”

A downside he didn’t like were breaks and lunches. He had to punch out on the time clock, go eat and then have to punch back in 30 minutes. Often there were long waiting lines to clock in and out.

“Breaks were a big sore point with me because you are supposed to take 15 minutes from the time you stop scanning before you start to scan again,” he said. “You have to walk all the way to the lunchroom, there are a mass number of people, and then you have to go back and eat. It really seemed a little inhumane to me the way they had that. But no one ever said anything to me about taking an extra few minutes on break or not picking enough.”

Another job at the fulfillment centers is packing.

“A neighbor of mine really liked it,” Harrison said. “The conveyer has a constant stream of products. You just pick up items, pack them in boxes and seal it up. Everything is bar coded. It is one heck of a system. It really is.”

He was surprised how the warehouse was arranged. Similar types of goods were not grouped together.

“They put these items in whatever bin had enough room,” Harrison said. “People who would stow this stuff go down aisles and put the items in whatever bin had room in for the particular items. They would barcode the bins and the items. Bins might have 20 or 40 different items. The computer knows where each item is, directs you to the closest bin, and you have to dig through to find the item. They have hundreds of thousands of items, so it would be impossible to have a different bin for each item.”

Harrison thinks it is great that Amazon is putting a fulfillment center in Mississippi.

“Mississippi needs the jobs,” Harrison said. “It is not something most people are going to consider for their entire career although there is career advancement, team leaders, and middle management. It is a very demanding job no matter what you are doing. For me, coming from my generation, I have a high work ethic. It was just a job as far as I was concerned. For young people, it might not be what they want to do long term. Amazon overall is a good company to work for. They like to reward workers. They were all the time giving bonuses and having contests to see who could pick the most in an hour. During peak season you were even given a $100 bonus if you worked all the hours you were asked to work. You go in and do something as simple as doing your job and you get another hundred bucks.”

The job appealed to Harrison’s sense of adventure. He enjoyed making friends and earning the extra money.

“Customer service is number one in Amazon,” he said. “I met some really nice people and learned a lot about working on the road. It was a good bunch. I felt like it was a positive thing in my life at the time.”

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