The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia (1)

I’ve praised, praised, praised Amazon’s pros, such as knock-out customer service, well-built e-readers and other goodies. But at what human cost is this happening?

If you believe Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld of the New York Times, we’re talking about a Darwinian sweatshop where employees compete against each other, Hunger Games style.  Let me add a little context. I don’t know about Jodi Kantor, but in his past writings, Streitfeld has come across at times as a spokesman for the legacy publishing establishment, so often Amazon’s enemy. Perhaps some technophobia and an old-boy network are at work here.

But if you read comments that self-identified Amazon alumni shared with Times readers, Kantor and Streitfeld could in fact be on to something in this case.

“I worked at Amazon for 18 months in the Web Services division a few years ago,”  one ex-employee wrote in. “It was hands down the single more miserable experience of my life (including friends dying and a parent getting cancer). The tenure in my area was nowhere near 1 year, likely closer to 6 months. I worked 7 days a week on a few hours of sleep a night with a 1 year old child at home. It almost ruined my marriage, and I still…wake up to nightmares of that place.”

What’s more, did the Kantor and Streitfeld concoct stories of vicious discrimination against the sick and the pregnant? And did they invent tales of Amazon pushing employees to report each other’s failings to their bosses? Complete with a how-to example? “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks”? Or did the Times make up tales of men weeping in their offices after brutal conferences?

Furthermore, doesn’t the Kantor-Streitfeld piece jibe with past articles on Amazon’s brutal warehouse conditions at the time? Remember? Ambulances ready to take away workers overcome by heat exhaustion? How Upton Sinclair could have writen that one up! In some ways could Amazon actually be not just The Hunger Games, but also The Jungle.

Certainly the current feature in the Times fits in with my concerns over the Big Business favoritism that has weakened anti-trust enforcement in recent years. Amazon’s defenders insist that the company earned its place at the head of the e-book pack without breaking any laws. Maybe. But could this not be the problem—the fact that in the United States of today, we’re in dire need of laws and court rulings friendlier to employees, unions, and small businesses? Who knows? Perhaps the negative vibrations from the New York Times coverage can even create a little more leverage for those of us pushing to make the e-book business less Amazon-controlled.

No dogma here. I’m a capitalist and do see a place for large corporations, and I’ll continue to admire Amazon’s better sides and Jeff’s Bezo’s passion for innovation. Ideally, however, the Kantor-Streitfeld article will encourage him to rethink his company’s policies and practices toward “Amabots.”

Long term, what’s ahead? Amazon wants to fill the sky with drones to deliver merchandise. So much for delivery jobs? And those oh-so-helpful Amazon customer service reps on the phone—could they eventually be replaced with a mix of sophisticated AI and advanced voice recognition? Might AI even kill off some jobs of Ph.D.’s working for Jeff in R&D. Not to mention the jobs of thousands of white-collar Amabots writing nasty memos against each other? More jobs gone. Will all this be the real end to the Hunger Games said to exist at Amazon? Next to no humans left to play them?

The Obama angle: The President has lauded Amazon as a jobs creator. If the Times and certain other news organizations are right, however, might the real issue be, “What kinds of jobs? And what kinds of treatment of the people in them?”


  1. Cry me a river. If it’s so miserable, then quit. In a free market, if working at Amazon is really so terrible, then they would have such a turnover problem that it would force them to change their employment policies.

    If you don’t like long hours for not so much pay, leave or work to increase your skills for better employment.

    As an IT professional, I worked plenty of nasty contracts for 80-90 hours/week or more, plus significant abuse from the customer and sometimes my own company. It comes with the territory. I paid my dues and now work for a small company from home with normal hours. Our occasional late night release and no raises or bonuses for the past 6 years is more than worth it.

  2. I agree with Lorraine. These words of wisdom apply:

    “The amount of money you make will always be in direct proportion to the demand for what you do, your ability to do it, and the difficulty of replacing you.”
    — Earl Nightingale

    “In the arena of human life the honors and rewards fall to those who show their good qualities in action.”
    — Aristotle (384BC-322BC)

    “Before you climb over the side of the fence to where the grass appears greener, try watering your side first!”
    — from “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Happiness”

    “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”
    — Fred Wilson

    “The irony of America’s fixation on jobs is that according to a 2011 Gallup Survey reported in Forbes, 70 percent of employees hate their jobs. So the question is: why are we so preoccupied with getting a job most of us will eventually hate?”
    — Phil Cooke

    “If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.”
    — Anna Quindlan

    “Experience your uncertain ventures with a good measure of glee. To be delighted while on the rocky road to success and prosperity is not generally understood by less-adventurous souls. They will think that you are crazy. This is the fun part.”
    — from “Look Ma, Life’s Easy”

    “Have you ever heard of a wage slave? Even worse . . . are you one? Wage slaves may live in big houses. They might drive Porsches. It doesn’t matter how “rich” you look, if you can’t walk away from your job — even for a second — because you would no longer be able to pay the bills, you’re a wage slave.
    — Sara Glakas

    “The worst days of those who enjoy what they do, are better than the best days of those who don’t.”
    — E. James Rohn

    “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.”
    — Woodrow Wilson

    “You are only as rich as the enrichment you bring to the world around you.”
    — Rajesh Setty

    “Imagine that you are in control of your life. Now, the question is: Why do you have to imagine this?”
    — from “Life’s Secret Handbook”

  3. Articles like this are important because many people sign up with places like Amazon because they are sold a bill of goods or don’t realize how much the deck is stacked against them. The gaming industry is even worse with people working long hours for terribly low pay because so many young people think it will be cool/fun to work on computer games.

    People need to be educated that working in tournament style jobs is a quick way to ruin their lives. People with STEM educations HAVE a choice and need to exercise it. Amazon will change when its pool of applicants dries up.

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