What We Discovered About Amazon’s Warehouse Staff


And the likelihood that black workers at the warehouse were laid off – whether for productivity, misconduct, or absenteeism – was almost 50 percent higher than their white counterparts, the records show. (Amazon said it couldn’t confirm the data without knowing more details about the source.)

Derrick Palmer, a black worker at JFK8, started as an enthusiast for the company in 2015 and has often been a top producer.

But between the constant surveillance, the assumption that many workers are idle, and the lack of advancement opportunities, “a lot of minority workers just felt like we were being taken advantage of,” Palmer said. His comments reflected the mood of black workers behind an unsuccessful union campaign at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama that year.

This spring, the company rolled out a variety of diversity plans, including a goal of “keeping employees at statistically similar rates across demographics” – an implicit admission that the numbers were unequal between races. At JFK8, executives hold weekly “talent review” meetings to ensure that black and Latin American workers, among others, are advancing.

Some of the practices that most frustrate employees – the short-term, low-growth model and the use of technology to hire, monitor, and guide workers – came from Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.

He believed an entrenched workforce created a “march to mediocrity,” said David Niekerk, a former long-time vice president who built the company’s original human resources departments in the warehouses.

Company data showed that most employees became less zealous over time, he said, and Mr Bezos believed that people were naturally lazy. “He would say that it is our nature as humans to use as little energy as possible to get what we want or need,” said Niekerk. That belief was ingrained throughout the company, from the simplicity of instant ordering to the ubiquitous use of data to get the most out of employees.