Sunday, May 20, 2018
Business

Amazon's new Florida centers draw out desperate job-seekers

Amazon has put out another "We're hiring" sign, suggesting the retail giant is close to opening its distribution centers in Ruskin and Lakeland.

I'm not sure whether to celebrate or put my phone on mute.

For weeks, I've been inundated with calls asking for information about Amazon. Callers read my stories about Amazon opening warehouses in Florida and think I work for the online seller.

I don't. I'm a newspaper reporter.

Around the office, it has become something of a joke. Colleagues laugh at the sheer number of times in a week I say, "I don't work for Amazon." My editor says I should get a commission from Amazon for everyone I direct to its job sites.

Some days, I cringe picking up the phone, especially after the three calls in a row from a trucking company owner increasingly angry because his driver couldn't find Amazon's warehouse in Ruskin. I finally pulled up a map online and directed him from Interstate 75. "Head west off College Ave., turn right at McDonald's and look for the 1-million-square-foot building on the right. You can't miss it!"

Sheesh.

Some of the calls are just strange, like the one from a mother looking for a job for her adult son, who would be "just perfect" for a warehouse position. I pictured the poor woman making a ham and cheese sandwich for her 32-year-old son while he played Xbox in her sewing room. "There, there," I told her. "Write down these websites and apply for him online. Good luck." (She needs it.)

There also was the call from a delivery guy who wanted to know if Amazon accepts shipments on weekends or at night. "Don't know. Maybe check the invoice for a name and phone number?"

Good idea, he said.

Wow.

Part of the problem is that reaching Seattle-based Amazon is nearly impossible. The job sites don't list a contact number. You can email or live chat with a representative, but if you want to talk to a real person, reaching someone on the top of Mount Everest is probably easier.

Granted, the sites clearly state Amazon will contact you via email if interested. Obviously — based on the two calls I got before 9 a.m. Monday — people can't wait.

And that leads to the bigger issue of jobs. Sit at my desk long enough and you'll find out people are desperate for work, even for $11 an hour in a warehouse.

To many, landing a job at Amazon seems like a good opportunity. You earn more than minimum wage — though not by much — you get health benefits and, after a year of full-time employment, Amazon will cover most of your college tuition. Educationwise, all you need is a high school diploma or equivalent.

Consider that this isn't "sit around and eat bon bons" kind of work. Jobs at Amazon's fulfillment centers are rigorous. Picking, packing and shipping orders at lightning speed is physically demanding, stressful and monotonous. Amazon requires applicants be able to lift up to 49 pounds and stand and walk for up to 10 to 12 hours. Not everyone can do that, or wants to.

My voice mail box will tell you that Amazon shouldn't have trouble finding 1,000 workers for its Ruskin warehouse. Many appear eager to embrace Amazon's motto — "Work hard, have fun, make history" — provided they can figure out how to apply.

Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] She does not work for Amazon.

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