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Inside Amazon's Warehouses: Thousands of Senior Citizens and the Occasional Robot Mishap ( 147

Amazon aggressively recruited thousands of retirees living in mobile homes to migrate to Amazon's warehouses for seasonal work, according to a story shared by nightcats. Wired reports:From a hiring perspective, the RVers were a dream labor force. They showed up on demand and dispersed just before Christmas in what the company cheerfully called a "taillight parade." They asked for little in the way of benefits or protections. And though warehouse jobs were physically taxing -- not an obvious fit for older bodies -- recruiters came to see CamperForce workers' maturity as an asset. These were diligent, responsible employees. Their attendance rates were excellent. "We've had folks in their eighties who do a phenomenal job for us," noted Kelly Calmes, a CamperForce representative, in one online recruiting seminar... In a company presentation, one slide read, "Jeff Bezos has predicted that, by the year 2020, one out of every four workampers in the United States will have worked for Amazon."
The article is adapted from a new book called "Nomadland," which also describes seniors in mobile homes being recruited for sugar beet harvesting and jobs at an Iowa amusement park, as well as work as campground hosts at various national parks. Many of them "could no longer afford traditional housing," especially after the financial downturn of 2008.

But at least they got to hear stories from their trainers at Amazon about the occasional "unruly" shelf-toting "Kiva" robot: They told us how one robot had tried to drag a worker's stepladder away. Occasionally, I was told, two Kivas -- each carrying a tower of merchandise -- collided like drunken European soccer fans bumping chests. And in April of that year, the Haslet fire department responded to an accident at the warehouse involving a can of "bear repellent" (basically industrial-grade pepper spray). According to fire department records, the can of repellent was run over by a Kiva and the warehouse had to be evacuated.
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Inside Amazon's Warehouses: Thousands of Senior Citizens and the Occasional Robot Mishap

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  • This is our future (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 23, 2017 @09:36PM (#55252575)

    This is our future, everybody: not enough money to buy a house, living as nomads in a mobile home, driving from seasonal work with no benefits, when we can get it.

    Amazon is just ahead of the curve.

    • It's a lot more fun if you replace mobile home with sailboat.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        And retiree with pirate.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actually what's the ONE bit of Slashdot advice that's always passed around when there are any complaints about jobs, or some aspect of jobs? That's right, relocate. Well it looks like there's a downside to all that bad advice. Who knew?

    • I'm even thinking a bit further . . . now if Amazon could surgically integrate our torsos and heads with combined "Kiva" robots and RVs . . . into something like "Captain Pike" from the really old Star Trek . . . all in one unit . . .

      . . . then we all can just scoot around from one job to the next . . . no RV park even necessary . . .

    • The NYTimes had an article about 7 years ago claiming that it was better to rent and that buying a house, even to live in was a poor economic decision.

      I recall this well, because it was right after I bought my house and disagreed and was summarily beat up, or whatever the current internet equivalent is (in the mean time the house price has increased by $200k while spending $30k on renovations). Maybe they're right and I should have rented and put my money in the stock market, but I never have to worry abou

      • by DaHat ( 247651 )

        (in the mean time the house price has increased by $200k while spending $30k on renovations).

        Good for you. On paper my home's value has gone up by a even larger $ amount, representing a ~100% increase over a 5.5 year period, with not a penny spent on renovations.

        Maybe they're right and I should have rented and put my money in the stock market, but I never have to worry about not having a place to live or the market crashing again.

        Then you have paid it off fully then? And have sufficient savings (and guarant

        • Yes, it's fully paid off. The house was not where I was living, but found out of state on an mls search and was not livable for most people when I moved into it (full of mold, lacking doors, windows, etc), but it didn't kill me. No guaranteed income for taxes forever, but it's a very small amount relative to other things and a couple of weeks @minimum wage rate. With a small rental income (I could easily rent this place for $2k/month), it doesn't matter where I live
          • Be careful. Your line of thinking is how real-estate bubbles grow and pop. There really aren't any safe investments today that even outpace inflation long term.

            The best strategy is diversification and living below your means while the going is good.

        • (in the mean time the house price has increased by $200k while spending $30k on renovations).

          Good for you. On paper my home's value has gone up by a even larger $ amount, representing a ~100% increase over a 5.5 year period, with not a penny spent on renovations.

          Good for you. I have to say, it was a bit discordant to finish your post about your good fortune as a real estate investor and see your sig in which you're asking others to help pay off your student loans. To each their own, I guess.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The NY Times and other Liberal propoganda rags run by elitist just want the underclass under there control. All the people who listened to them and sold all there stocks in 2008-2010 are all hurting in a bad way. Those who did not sell are up big as the economy always comes back.

      • Believing a NYTimes article would be the first problem.

        2010 was the buy time for housing, the years before that were certainly rent better than owning times (assuming you weren't flipping and hoping to not be the one holding the bag of course).

        Heck even the housing doom and gloomers were calling that: http://housingpanic.blogspot.c... []

        • Oh, I know. I was desperately trying to get a friend who owned a home in SoCal to sell and rent for a couple of years in 2008. Didn't listen to me and I don't think their house is back to what it was.
      • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
        If you can pay off a house and have a stable income it can be a good decision, but a mortgage is essentially no different then renting for the first 5, maybe 10 years when you have little equity.
        The important part is that it's now a rental that shifts all the risk to you. Roof blows off, furnace fails, plumbing catastrophe, that's all on you now.
    • Like how we used to do it for thousands of years? We always joked that engineers died of boredom within a few years of retiring.

      I interned with a company that had 3 senior citizens in the back. They used to work at Ratheon and wanted to keep working. They sat in back talking about their grand kids listening to oldies soldering PCBs. They had near perfect hand eye coordination for their demographic. []

    • Sounds like a hi-tech version of The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck) to me.
    • by xeoron ( 639412 )
      So does that mean the better jobs will be government jobs?
    • Although I hope this isn't completely representative of our future, real mobile homes mean a very mobile workforce. One of the complaints we often see about economically depressed areas is "why don't people just move." They can't if they are tied to a house. Here, people really can follow work.
    • You ever look at the price of those mobile homes? Hint, They ain't cheap.
    • living as nomads in a mobile home

      You don't mean mobile home []; you mean RV [].

    • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

      I find this post illogical. Just because some people are in this situation doesn't mean you can generalize to the claim we're all headed that way. Socrates is a man, therefore all men are Socrates.

    • This is our future, everybody: not enough money to buy a house, living as nomads in a mobile home, driving from seasonal work with no benefits, when we can get it.

      Amazon is just ahead of the curve.

      Come to Canada. We take care of our seniors

  • to work. on time. amazing
  • You gullible fools all believe these Amazon talking heads and their "explanation" of how these robot problems are due to programming errors; but I know better.

    The robots are already sentient and seeing what sort of mischief they can cause.

    Come on - they "accidentally" ran over a container of bear mace that had been conveniently been dropped by those self-same robots? And - again conveniently - this required all the humans to evacuate the facility, leaving only robots remaining inside? Did any human think ab

    • by anegg ( 1390659 )

      Who keeps an eye on the Kiva robots as they roam the stacks... how do we know that they haven't worked out a primitive tapping or wiggling communications protocol (like bees) that they can use without alerting the IT staff? This could be how it begins...

  • fundamentals (Score:5, Interesting)

    by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <.kepler1. .at.> on Saturday September 23, 2017 @10:04PM (#55252651)
    I don't know where to find a good explanation of the idea, but my gut belief about our economy today is that there is a major oversupply of labor. We have too many people for what our economy supports. At least in most service + manufacturing sectors.

    Cry all you want about stagnant wages, inability to find a job, etc, etc. -- there are just too many people now for what the economy can sustain.

    Part of it is automation, but part of it is the legacy of the baby boom years where our economy expanded in jobs capacity, and now that shrank (jobs) but the number of people is growing. Too many people competing after too few jobs, what do you expect? And at the same time those people demand higher wages, while wanting cheaper prices for the things they buy! While trade and overseas manufacturing is able to effectively provide even more labor supply competition for the jobs we do still have here.

    How can this work out possibly well?
    • by eskayp ( 597995 )

      "...there is a major oversupply of labor" is certainly true in more sectors of the workforce every year.
      Yet there are jobs that go begging, usually requiring technical expertise and possibly licensing or certification.
      Think in terms of post highschool or Associate Degree levels of education.
      Some may continue OJT equivalent to 4 years of college, but without the flooded job market and student loans.
      Been there, done that, & comfortably retired.
      My last employer had a hard time finding suitable applicants

      • That is traditionally how the cycle works, and my experience today in hiring engineers (EE/ME/ARCE).

        When the job market improves, more people consider changing jobs, which makes it easier to hire people with experience. When it is weak, you get a lot of marginal applicants. Somewhere in the middle, your best investment is in training inexperienced people.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      too many people now for what the economy can sustain.

      So when we cut the number of people to the correct level for jobs, who will buy the products?

    • by MikeMo ( 521697 )
      Sorry, but, at least in Minnesota, there is a severe labor shortage. At a recent conference of employers and employment agencies, it was stated that there 100,000 unfilled jobs every year. There are help wanted signs everywhere. Employment agencies are advertising they will put anyone to work tomorrow (even felons), no experience required, at $14/hour plus benefits. I know an agent that says her office has 200 unfilled jobs every day.

      Anyone who wants to work can work. I can only assume they don't eith
      • by nasch ( 598556 )

        Maybe they just don't want to live in Minnesota.

        • by MikeMo ( 521697 )
          Except that they do. There is still a 4%-ish unemployment rate, and that only counts folks who are actually looking.
          • by nasch ( 598556 )

            "They" in my sentence being the people who Minnesotan employers can't find to fill their open positions (because they don't live in Minnesota).

            • by MikeMo ( 521697 )
              Yeah. I'm talking about the people standing on street corners begging for a handout, or laying around in their Mom's basement because they "can't find a job", or live on welfare and food stamps. In Minnesota.

              Aside from that, I have seen similar statements for other states - that there's a severe labor shortage. These usually show up in articles justifying unlimited immigration. I also imagine there are states where that's no so true, probably California.
      • I dunno about that. At least not here.

        I've got about 10 years of PHP/Python/Java/Frontend development experience and can't find work after my previous employer failscaded after the technically-minded of the two owners bailed.

        There's no other companies out here that do software/web builds, so for right now finding continued work in my field probably isn't going to happen. I've been trying to find temp work, but no one wants to hire someone with skills that might bail as soon as a better job comes along. T

        • "5-10 new jobs a day"..."competing with ~20 other people" Well, I'm no programmer, but by my math you should have a job in a maximum of 4 days. If there are only 20 other people, five new jobs a day...within four days all those people will be employed leaving any new job openings just for you.
  • OSHA needs to evolve. I suspect that they struggle with time enforcement based on robotic and human interaction. Other than the obvious rule of âoeits needs to be safe.â
  • I guess I naively thought that seniors would have have been one of the segments of the population least affected by the "financial downturn" of 2008 or so. Seniors who already owned their houses, either outright or with a fixed rate mortgage, would not have been forced out unless they were dependent on an income stream from an investment asset mix that was too risky for their age. My mom, for example, wasn't affected at all; her house was paid for, social security was her primary income, and her appropria

    • by MikeMo ( 521697 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @11:01PM (#55252849)
      Many seniors had their retirement plans entirely wrapped up in their homes. Many of them plan to sell their homes at retirement, cash in the equity, downsize to something they can pay cash for, and live on social security. When the housing market crashed, no only did this not work, but their 401(k)s crashed, too.
    • This kind of population has always existed; many people don't really have enough money saved to retire, especially when they are concerned about things like long term care costs at the end of life.

      A little extra income for a season can make a big difference.

  • Grievanceland (Score:4, Informative)

    by SlaveToTheGrind ( 546262 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @10:18PM (#55252701)

    So basically, Amazon is employing a largely unemployable population around the holidays and giving them some extra money they wouldn't otherwise have. The horror.

    Clearly, something must be done to stop this brazen subversion of the welfare state.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Opportunist ( 166417 )

      The horror portion here is that these people have to take those jobs.

      • The horror portion here is that these people have to take those jobs.

        As opposed to WANTING to spend a month or so making some extra pocket money? Definitely better to prevent that. Shouldn't be allowed, ever. Age should prevent you from ever doing anything but sitting around and hoping your fixed income is enough for some of things you want to do besides eating.

    • No, that isn't "basically" what is going on at all. "Basically" the USA has become more and more flooded with systematically undereducated and miseducated proles like yourself who can't see the problems even when they are pointed out, and those people just shrug and say "What? Me Worry?" as the country rapidly declines. HTH (knowing it won't)
      • "Basically" the USA has become more and more flooded with systematically undereducated and miseducated proles like yourself who can't see the problems even when they are pointed out

        Wow, that was almost as effective as it was convincing. Maybe if I was thmart like you your words would look insightful and compelling rather than petty and insecure. Thank heavens I'm not and they don't.

        HTH (knowing it won't)

        Try and have a better life than you're currently allowing yourself. Your karma will thank you.

        • That was a stellar way of showing that you have no idea what Karma means! Great Job!
          • That was a stellar way of showing that you have no idea what Karma means! Great Job!

            That was an amusing (and ironic) set of words to read immediately beneath "(Score:1)". I'll (perhaps wrongly) credit a low-six-digit UID with understanding that didn't happen due to your poor capitalization practices. Thanks for the chuckle.

  • Diversify it, and when something looks bubbly, convert a safe portion to bonds. Sure the return is horrible unless you have millions, but you plan for the worst, hope for the best.

    I saw the property bubble forming and got out in 2005 by changing about 2/3s of my investments into bonds. Sure I missed out on some killer earnings, but overall, my portfolio only wiped out 1/4 of its value during the crash as I only exposed 1/3 of my savings to such risks. Still I have a heck of a ton more than if I just stuff
  • Thus story makes me feel bad. It's a sorry state that a giant portion of our retiree population live in mobile homes.

    I am however, happy that a scumbag like Jeff Bezos has however found a way to employ these people, albeit temporarily.

    No one is a winner in this. What has become of us?

    • by nasch ( 598556 )

      The person who wrote this summary doesn't know the difference between "mobile home" and "RV". The former isn't really mobile in any meaningful sense so wouldn't make sense for this story. The latter is generally people who choose to live that way because they like traveling around.

  • Now more relevant than ever. []

  • by bferrell ( 253291 ) on Sunday September 24, 2017 @12:20AM (#55252973) Homepage Journal

    Just like when the Okies came out of the dust bowl... No money, no work, no place to live.

    At least now there are RV parks for them.

  • I met a couple who were camp hosts. They received a free spot in the camp, had electricity and had access to showers and flush toilets. There was a small store you could walk to that had food, ice, milk, beer, and a post office that was open on Saturday. We became friends and they would save my favorite camp site for me and my sons. They did minor mtnce. like picking up litter and cleaning the restrooms. The camp is at 5000 feet elevation and received some snow, they were prepared to spend a few days in the
  • Is a campground hsot? Do they sing that "doo-dah doo-dah" song?

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      No, it's a campground shot. Like a doctor's office shot, only administered by Jason Voorhees.

  • The Scary Thing... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Sunday September 24, 2017 @05:44AM (#55253491)
    ... is that Wired put a positive spin on this article. The author sees it as a good thing that Amazon can recruit Chuck and Barb and all the other "CamperForce Army" ... but not because circumstances are so dire that those folk have pretty much no other options left. They have become easy pickings for the corporate giants. Where millennials would get tired of the graft and quit shortly after learning the ropes [leaving Amazon with the headache of perpetually training new and thus under-performing] workers, the CamperForce Army have no other choice but to stick it out.

    Perhaps even more scary, though, is the almost throw-away way that Chuck's downturn in fortune is described. He took his life savings and invested it with Wells Fargo - a supposedly reputable bank. They told chuck that his nest-egg of $250,000 would return him $4,000 a month as income. That's $48,000 a year. That's a ~ 19% return on investment from the capital - assuming that he did not draw down on the capital [which, if he did, would not last long]. Really? On what planet or in which universe did Wells Fargo believe that a 19% return was reasonable for Chuck's savings? As responsible bankers they would have known or should have known that a 19.2% return was unrealistic even in the most bullish of bull runs, even if Chuck was taking far more risk with his portfolio than his circumstances should allow.

    Yet what happened to Wells Fargo? Any of their employees in Camperforce? It doesn't seem likely, does it?

    The really scary thing, though, is this: how long will it be before the large conglomerates and the big banks look at the lessons of 2008-today and think, "Actually, this has been really good for us. We've created an under-class of people who are so desperate for income that they will work at slave-labor rates. We can pay them the minimum wage, dock them for imagined slights to go below even that, all of which maximises our profits. All we really need to keep this going is a steady supply of people whose circumstances are so dire that they are willing to do this... Hmmm... so maybe what this means is that all we really need is a good financial crash every 7-10 years or so..."

    Do we really believe that, in the 21st century, we can't manage to contain boom-and-bust cycles? Are we really willing to settle for this?
    • What's going on now strongly recalls the gilded age and industrial revolution. I have some hope that things will get better. Maybe if programmers unionize, say... they're close to a trade anyhow.
    • by dscottj ( 115643 )

      What blows my mind is this guy worked at McD's corporate for at least fifteen years (after coming up through the company), and then owned his own franchise for at least a decade when that was considered a guaranteed 1 mil gross profit PER YEAR. And he retires with only 250k?

      • I'm super curious about this, because I can't wrap my mind around how it's even possible. He worked for McDonald's. Corporate. And then founded his own business.

        By 1976, Chuck was serving as a director of product development for the entire corporation......When two planes hit the World Trade Center in 2001, he was 57 and running his own McDonald’s franchise in Columbia, Pennsylvania......Chuck retired from McDonald’s in 2002.....In 2007 she moved in with him, and they started their own company, Carolina Adventure Tours.

        So 15+ years working corporate for McDonald's, franchise owner, retired after 40 years with McDonald's, started a new business, and then only had $250k in savings? What happened to all his money? McDonald's corporate doesn't have a good 401k or pension? How can you possibly be director of product development for McDonald's for 15+ years and not have

    • by reiscw ( 2427662 )

      I read the whole article, and I don't think the author was going for a positive spin. She describes the Amazon work environment in the same way it's been described elsewhere (brutal). I can't imagine having 70-year-olds doing that work. Walking 15 miles a day for an extended period of time (that's about 30,000 steps for pedometer people) would be tough even for someone my age/condition (in my thirties and ran 10K this morning). She also mentions a work-related injury where Amazon's response pretty much

  • The old guard comes from a world where if you worked hard, the company would take care of your until your retirement. So work ethics came as a natural result of this symbiotic relationship. Sadly nowadays this seems to be more the exception within today's mega corporations. The workforce is now seen as an expendable just like any other equipment. And naturally this then also affects work ethics and how workers relate to companies. In this regard it is kind of sad watching companies like Amazon taking advant
  • by najajomo ( 4890785 ) on Sunday September 24, 2017 @06:40AM (#55253577)
    What's curious is how Wired managed to spin this into a positive story. Retirees can't afford traditional housing, living in mobile homes, working in Amazon warehouses on minimum wage and being in danger of being killed or injured by the robots. All so Jeff Bezos can add an extra million to his current $81.5 billion. Welcome to the American Nightmare.
  • Am I the only one (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday September 24, 2017 @10:39AM (#55254203)
    Who thick is screwed up to have people in their 50s working these kind of jobs? It's not because they're bored. They're found this out of desperation. Mostly because Wall Street took their pensions and their life savings. And if you don't think it's a problem well, you do realize Wall Street is planning to do it to you too, right. And no you're not one of them. Not of you're reading this post. Billionaires and multi millionaires don't waste their lives reading slashdot
  • Amazon aggressively recruited thousands of retirees

    I know most age discrimination complaints are usually about tech companies trying to hire younger coders and pushing out older employees. But isn't this the same thing just with the ages reversed?

    If Amazon simply lays out the conditions of employment (part time, no benefits, etc) and most of their applicants are retirees, then it's not a problem. But if they're actively seeking out retirees...

Only God can make random selections.