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What We Learned About Amazon’s Warehouse Workers

And Black associates at the warehouse were almost 50 percent more likely to be fired — whether for productivity, misconduct or absenteeism — than their white peers, the records show. (Amazon said it could not confirm the data without knowing more specifics about its source.)

Derrick Palmer, a Black worker at JFK8, began at the company in 2015 as an enthusiast, and he was often a top producer.

But between the constant monitoring, the assumption that many workers are slackers and the lack of advancement opportunity, “a lot of minority workers just felt like we were being used,” Mr. Palmer said. His comments echoed the sentiment of Black workers behind an unsuccessful unionization campaign at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama this year.

This spring, the company introduced a host of diversity plans, including a goal to “retain employees at statistically similar rates across all demographics” — an implicit admission that the numbers had been uneven across races. At JFK8, leaders are holding weekly “talent review” meetings to ensure that Black and Latino workers, among others, are advancing.

Some of the practices that most frustrate employees — the short-term-employment model, with little opportunity for advancement, and the use of technology to hire, monitor and manage workers — come from Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive.

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

Company data showed that most employees became less eager over time, he said, and Mr. Bezos believed that people were inherently lazy. “What he would say is that our nature as humans is to expend as little energy as possible to get what we want or need,” Mr. Niekerk said. That conviction was embedded throughout the business, from the ease of instant ordering to the pervasive use of data to get the most out of employees.


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