Reactions to The New York Times’ story on conditions for Amazon workers.
Perhaps the hordes of blue-badged Amazon workers zipping around South Lake Union at lunch time are indeed “Amabots” looking for a recharge needed to continue their all-consuming toil.
That’s the impression left, anyway, by a New York Times article describing the working conditions at Jeff Bezos’ operation.
The article describes coldhearted bosses, annual staff cuts described as “purposeful Darwinism” and grueling hours for burnt-out employees.
The story certainly captures attention. Even Bezos, typically reticent in media coverage, weighed in by saying the story doesn’t reflect the company he knows.
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Meanwhile, USA Today technology columnist Jefferson Graham said the Times’ piece makes working at Amazon sound “like the equivalent of sweat shop torture from the early 1900s.”
Graham, who said he’s a loyal Amazon customer, writes that he’s unwilling to continue to do business with the company now.
“I don’t care if a new lens for my camera takes two or three days, or even a week to get to me. I don’t need a drone to whisk out a package from a warehouse and get it to me pronto,” says Graham.
Amazon’s incredible speed, says Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, is a product of the company’s long-term strategy. Although the company has long been publicly traded, Yglesias argues it operates “like a relatively early-stage startup.”
“Its relentless focus on low prices in pursuit of growth leaves it with very low margins,” writes Yglesias. “The company squeezes costs remorselessly, but passes all that forward to customers in pursuit of even faster growth.”
But Yglesias argues you should, “Save your tears for Amazon’s blue-collar workers,” who he says are the ones actually suffering.
“The working conditions are bad. The pay is bad. The prestige is low. Nobody walks away feeling pride in having done the best work of their lives. And working at a warehouse does not look particularly great on your résumé.”
Justin Fox, a business columnist at Bloomberg, said the company “deserved to be shamed into changing its behavior” toward its warehouse workers and says the NYT story’s portrayal “fits with just about everything else I’ve ever heard or read about Amazon.”
At the same time, he says some people thrive on the high-pace, high-intensity environment Amazon promotes.
The real question, writes Fox, is if the company can keep up its churn-and-burn hiring pace. Fox writes:
“The hiring approach feels a little like the traditional law or consulting firm setup — bring in lots of really smart young people and work them hard, with the understanding that only a minority get to stick around as partners and get rich. That arrangement has been unraveling lately in the law, but who’s to say it can’t work for another decade or two at Amazon?”
The reaction to The New York Times’ Amazon piece looks much like the online marketplace, itself: There seems to be an offering for every taste.
Perhaps the most telling perspective is that of investors. In the wake of the article, Amazon’s stock rose .70 percent on the Nasdaq exchange when it closed Monday. They might have enjoyed reading just how hard those “Amabots” were working.
The churn-and-burn issue isn’t new in the tech world. In April, 1989, The Seattle Times published a story headlined, “Inside Microsoft — A ‘Velvet Sweatshop’ or a High-Tech Heaven?” that described the dual nature of the budding tech company.
Microsoft is “an exhilarating work environment fed by adrenaline, constant brainstorming and creative drive” but also takes “a heavy toll on workers’ well-being” with its hypercompetitive atmosphere.
Information in this article, originally published August 17, 2015 was corrected August 18, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Matthew Yglesias’ name.