Althea Smith, 65, is scheduled to stand for 10 hours a day, four days a week.
She serves as a’stower,’ a human element of an assembly line that pumps out packages for delivery every 11 seconds at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama.
She is not allowed to use her cellphone. She is forbidden from conversing with her colleagues. Anything she does is watched and registered, from the moment she walks in the door to the moment she leaves.
She is allowed two 30-minute breaks per shift, which are quickly consumed by the time it takes to pass through the massive four-story warehouse.
It’s clocked as “time off duty” if she takes another break, claim to use the toilet. If she does it too soon, her pay will be docked. If she has so many hits, she might be fired outright. Those firing decisions are often communicated through text.
Althea likes to rest her legs by sitting on a ladder or turning over a container when there is a line break. If her bosses spot her, they’ll tell her she’ll be able to squat but not sit.
Althea sees no justification for this strategy other than to keep staff in line. An ABC request for an explanation received no response from Amazon.
“They treat people how they want to. They do what they want to do,” she said.
“If something will benefit them, it’s fine. If it benefits the employees, they won’t do it.
“Really, it’s like a slave camp.”
Ms Smith, on the other hand, has recently found reason to believe that things will get better.
Employees at Amazon’s Bessemer plant are approaching the end of a seven-week mail-in voting period to decide if they will join a union — a contest that’s being framed as a litmus test for the future of American working conditions.
Althea has already voted yes, having already worked as a steelworker with union representation. She hopes that if a large number of her colleagues join her, they will be able to recruit an advocate to help them negotiate better terms with the organization.
“I’m not saying that the union can always solve my problems,” she said.
“But at least I know that they are there, that I could go to someone.” –ABC World News