For Amazon employees, Prime Day isn't about severely discounted Insta Pots, uber-cheap Echo speakers or half-off LED TVs. To many warehouse workers, the massive online sales event means mandatory overtime, aching muscles and 60-hour workweeks.
Prime Day 2019 kicked off Monday and runs through Tuesday. It's a sweet deal for both Amazon customers and the company itself. Boasting more than 1 million deals for more than 100 million Prime members, the extravaganza is on track to generate an estimated $5.8 billion in sales.
But it's putting a lot of pressure on staffers at the fulfillment centers who have to pump out all those those packages. For them, Prime Day is Prime Week — several days of rigorous labor to keep up with the frenetic pace of orders. Whatever you call it, Prime Day is compounding the stress from another recent initiative: free one-day shipping, which the company has been actively expanding for Prime members since spring.
"Amazon fulfillment workers were already facing speeds of 200-300 orders per hour in 12-hour shifts before the new policy," Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said in a statement last week. "Testing hundreds of thousands of workers physical limits as though they were trained triathletes is the wrong approach."
On social media, Amazonians are posting memes about the MET, or mandatory extra time, they've been asked to work in preparation for Prime Day. Several have shared a recent John Oliver video criticizing the harsh work environments in Amazon's warehouses. Others have complained about their unpredictable schedules and discussed a warehouse in Minnesota that's planning a six-hour strike during Prime Day.
Amazon has pushed back against these complaints. A spokeswoman told Money employees are "working smarter, not harder" this summer.
"Amazon is able to safely meet customer demand on Prime Day because of our great workforce and state-of-the-art technology," she added. "Safety is our top priority every day of the year, but especially during Prime Week with more people in the buildings. We have a focus on ensuring area organization and readiness to contribute to our success in being safe."
Money spoke with an Amazon fulfillment center employee who agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity. Here's what she said about what's it like to work at Amazon right now, during Prime Week.
[Initially, Amazon] was so exciting. It was something new. It was something I had never done before. I was placed into roles that really boosted my confidence. I became a Problem Solver, then I became an Ambassador. I was responsible for training people. I took pride in that.
Everything was good, then we came upon Prime Week. We came upon this one-day shipping. We were not warned ahead of time about one-day shipping. We were not warned about Prime Day — nothing. It was just handed to us. Then, like the second week of June, they start calling mandatory 60-hour, six-day overtime.
Do you have any idea how exhausted we all are? It's getting to the point that everybody is fighting with each other. We're just short-tempered.
Honestly, [with] the line of work we do and the amount of work that we do, I feel that we should be making $20 an hour. Your $15 an hour [announced last year by CEO Jeff Bezos] is nothing to me.
I work from the time I get in there in the morning until I leave. You know those rubber balls — you slam them on the ground and you don't know where they're going? That's me.
Last summer was nothing. This summer is crazy. I really believe it's because of one-day shipping. When we had Prime Day last year, it was nothing compared to what it is today. [They're] making us work this 60-hour mandatory overtime. We are all short-fused. Everybody is so friggin' tired.
[Executives] don't get it. You're not the ones working 60 hours a week doing what we're doing. I don't give a s--t about what charts you have, what numbers you have, this cannot be productive.
I'm not blaming Jeff Bezos. I'm not blaming Amazon as a whole. I'm just blaming the way that Amazon is designed. I don't know who came up with this whole thing, but to value numbers more than you value humanity — this is not the line of business I will retire in. To work for a company like this is very disheartening.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Amazon.