How Occasions Reporters Investigated Amazon Employment Practices

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Back office workers at another location in Costa Rica described the partial collapse of the company’s vacation systems at the start of the pandemic, which led to issues such as the suspension of benefits for Mr. Castillo.

Data from public records showed that Amazon’s total workforce was largely black and Latino, but internal documents showed that black workers at JFK8 were disproportionately laid off.

After Ms. Santos, the worker laid off for TOT, applied for unemployment, Amazon denied her benefits. In an opaque New York administrative court, the company filed internal policy notes that provided a rare glimpse into the TOT system.

After almost 200 interviews, a picture emerged of a company that “worked far more precisely with parcels than with people,” said Ms. Kantor. Amazon had tried to grow its business quickly by creating a huge semi-automated hiring and management machine – but that system often stumbled.

Ms. Weise was able to confirm that while the company bragged about creating jobs, sales in the warehouses were around 150 percent a year – a figure never reported before – which meant that Amazon kept the equivalent of its total warehouse employees every eight months had to replace.

That number, and the whole project, got a deeper meaning when David Niekerk, the architect of Amazon’s warehouse management system, told her the sales were more or less intentional. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, had tried to avoid a stalled workforce for fear of laziness and a “march to mediocrity.” As a result, advancement opportunities and wage increases for warehouse workers were limited.

As Ms. Kantor wrote and Ms. Ashford further reported, Ms. Weise led a delicate six-week attempt to confirm the extensive information in the story with Amazon and to get answers. By then, the company had provided some input, including a general manager’s tour of JFK8 and an interview with Ofori Agboka, the warehouse’s head of human resources, who defended Amazon but admitted the company was too reliant on technology and self-reliance supported operation.