Day One (Round 2) at Amazon

Today was our first day at Amazon SDF-8 in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  Each fulfillment center is identified by the closest airport, which is SDF in Louisville.  There are 8 centers associated with this airport, including the original, SDF-1, in Campbellsville, KY.  This facility is so big, I was unable to get it all in the photo.

SDF-8

SDF-8

This center was opened in 2012, and is the first facility dedicated to apparel.  According to the General Manager that spoke to our group today, apparel is Amazon’s fastest growing segment in their company.  This facility has doubled production every year, which is one reason they are short-staffed.  They simply have not been able to keep up with customer demand as they process 4 million items per week. SDF-8 has over 2,000 regular full-time employees, and is expected to have close to 5,000 employees during these next 4 weeks.  In just the last 10 days, they have added 1400 new seasonal workers.

When Amazon requested 100 Camperforce associates from Campbellsville, it was expected that 90 would be assigned to Picking, and 10 to Packing.  That changed this morning, when they announced only 40 of us would be going to picking, and the rest to packing.  That brought a few cheers, and a few ‘other words’ from our group!  They only wanted those of us that have been picking, to work in that area.  The management at SDF-8 stated, with only four weeks to go, there would not be enough time to properly train anyone in Picking.

After our orientation meeting, we divided into groups of 5 and went out into the two picking areas.  They are separated on the east side of the building, and the west side.  And the picking mods are very simple, compared to SDF-1.  Since this is a brand new building, everything goes in alphabetical and numeric order.  The east side has pick mod A, and the west side has pick mod B, C, D.  The mods cover four floors, just like we are used to.  But, according to our trainer, we won’t be bounced around from pick mod to pick mod, like we did in Campbellsville.

Also, the expectations are lower here.  The trainer stated a full-time associate should be picking 50 units per hour.  In Campbellsville, they were expected to average at least 120 UPH.  In some areas, it was 180 UPH.  As Camperforce associates, we are expected to do 85% of what the full-time employees do.  At first we were surprised by the low numbers needed, but you do spend a great deal of time digging through cardboard “drawers” to find the right item!  They can have a drawer full of black t-shirts, for instance, and you need to pick through all the sizes to get the correct one.  And these bins are over stuffed. (just like Campbellsville)!

The warehouse is clean, well light, and has windows.  It is also climate controlled, although it did get pretty warm when we were up on the 3rd floor, so we will probably continue wearing shorts at work.

Tomorrow we will have our first 10 hour day, so it will give us a good sense of how the next 4 weeks will pan out.  They are hoping to have a Camperforce program at this facility next year, if our ‘trial’ group works out.  They are also having a Thanksgiving meal for us as well.  We do have to work on Thanksgiving, but only from 7:30am to 3:00pm, and it will be time and a half!!  Starting Black Friday, we have the option of working 11 hour days, which we will try.

Last night we had an impromptu ‘meet and greet’ dinner at a nearby hotel, and got to meet many other workcampers that we had never seen before (they were either on nights, or in different departments).

Our campground is small (or shall I say “cozy”), but has free cable television, and decent wi-fi, which is unusual for campgrounds.  And we did find a dog sitter for Makena.  Today was her first day, and we received a good report card!

Quote for the day:  “Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” – Jim Rohn

Taking the last train to Clarksville…..

…..Indiana, that is.  Yes we are heading north.  No, we are not quitting Amazon.  I have held off posting a blog for awhile, as Amazon made an unexpected offer to the Camperforce team here in Campbellsville, KY.

Original Offer

About 2 weeks ago, all 400 plus Camperforce associates (what Amazon calls their workcampers, separate from the hundreds of seasonal/temporary employees they hire as well) here received an e-mail with an offer to help out the Amazon facility in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  It is located about 90 miles north of Campbellsville right across the bridge from Louisville.  The facility opened in 2012 and it is one of only a few centers that specialize in apparel.  The facility has been overwhelmed with orders, and needs more people to help out during peak season.  They have been transferring a lot of clothing (socks, underwear, shirts, jackets) to our facility to help fulfill orders.  We have seen more than our fair share of “ugly sweaters” which are apparently quite popular…not sure why!

They needed 100 campers to join their team during peak, in Picking and Packing only.  The offer stated everyone would be on the same shift, with the same benefits we currently receive (full paid campsite and end of season completion bonus).  The difference was a higher hourly pay ($10.75 vs. $10.00 per hour) and an additional bonus of $500.00 per person, after taxes.

The “campground” they chose was the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville, which is basically a parking lot with hook-ups.  It is located about 17 miles from the new Amazon facility.

We talked about it, weighed the pros and cons, but decided an additional $1000.00 in our pocket was not enough of an incentive to move for 4 weeks especially with the extra cost in daily gas and a long commute.  Because we work the weekend shift, we already receive an additional 60 cents per hour, so we would only be making 15 cents more in Indiana, and we would have to file income taxes in two states.  We like it here in Campbellsville, and this year has been going very well for us.

In addition, having to drive through road construction and rush hour every day was a big turn off for us. We have enjoyed walking to work and since we arrived seven weeks ago we have not needed to add any extra diesel fuel.

Revised Offer

About 2 days after the original offer, Amazon amended their offer to include other campgrounds in the area (that were still open, as some had shut their water off for winter).  In addition, they would provide a shuttle bus to and from the Expo Center, so people did not have to drive.  This new offer was enough incentive for 31 people to sign up.  Most of those folks cited wanting to see what it was like at a new facility as their main incentive to go.

The Sparkly Carrot

Since they only had 31 folks signed up, Amazon upped the ante again.  This time they increased the bonus to $1,000.00 per person, if nineteen more people would sign up.  Now they wanted 50 total (so it was the same original budgeted pool of bonus money).  They would gross up the bonus so you would net the $1,000.00, after taxes.  Next thing you know, everyone seemed to be jumping on board.  Between the addition of campgrounds in Indiana only 5 – 8 miles away (and not having to cross the I-65 bridge every day during rush hour and road construction), and the increased bonus, we decided to put our names on the list as well.

We were also intrigued by working in a new facility, that was specifically designed and built for the Amazon apparel division.  And, since we would only be there for 4 weeks, we figured it was time to throw caution to the wind again.  After all, that is what this lifestyle is all about.  We called one of the campgrounds, and told the owner we signed up, but have not received official word if we were selected.  She told us to call back.  Later that day we noticed on the Amazon Camperforce Facebook account, that many people were signing up at the various campgrounds.  So we called back, only to find all the campgrounds booked already (except the Expo Center).  We did not want to stay there, so we figured “oh well, it was not meant to be.”

Several days later, Amazon decided to take 100 Camperforce associates, and keep the increased bonus of $1,000.00 per person.  And we were one of those chosen, although we still had no campsite.  So we had to wait, and wait, until people who did not make the list, started cancelling their reservations.  Then Amazon announced that 90% of the positions would be in Picking, and the remaining in Packing.  A lot of people dropped out after that, because they did not want to go into Picking, even though Amazon made it clear this was going to happen.  So finally, after a week of trying to get a campsite, we did get a call back that enough people had cancelled their reservations, that they could provide a spot for us at a campground about 8 miles from the facility. The KOA campground we will be staying at is in Clarksville, IN.

What’s Next?

We just finished a 5 day/50 hour week (overtime, yea!) and will spend the next 3 days resting, cleaning and getting our stuff put away.  I checked the Walmart, Target and Kroger apps, and we will have all that and more, right near us in Clarksville.

Saturday will be our final day of work here in Campbellsville.  Sunday we will hitch up the truck to the 5th wheel, and join the caravan of others heading north.  We start work on Tuesday, with a half day of orientation. Then our regular workdays will be Wednesday thru Saturday, with Sunday as our mandatory overtime day.  They have been working overtime for over 12 weeks at that facility, so I am sure the workers will be happy to have some more help.

Last night we had a final dinner together with two couples that we met last year.  Tom and Ellen, along with Ruth Ann were all working with us in Picking.  They took us under their wing and helped us “newbies” learn the ropes.  Ruth Ann’s husband Jack was doing his rotation last year in the IT department.  This year, Ruth Ann and Jack are on a different shift and a different department, and Tom and Ellen are also on a different shift, so we don’t get to see them as much.  Tom and Ellen will also be headed north, so we will be working with them.  We had a nice last supper at Brother’s Restaurant in Campbellsville.

Tom, Jack, Ruth Ann, me, Dan and Ellen

Tom, Jack, Ruth Ann, me, Dan and Ellen

Sorry this turned out to be so long!  It has been a crazy couple of weeks, but stay tuned for more on our new adventure.

Quote for the day:  “Change is not merely necessary to life, it is life.” – Alvin Toffler

Amazon – just walking in circles

We are just over the halfway point in our jobs at Amazon.  Which means Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner!  After several weeks of picking Halloween costumes and decorations, the merchandise has switched to all things turkey related.  Tablecloths, roasting pans, turkey injectors and basting brushes seem to be the popular seasonal items now.  I like it when the holidays follow the calendar.

image

Of course, we are still picking the usual items.  IPhone 6 accessories have been very popular, more so than any other brand of cell phone combined.  The ‘Call of Duty’ video game was released this week, and we picked hundreds of those.  Disney ‘Frozen’ toys are very popular, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Monster dolls continue to be very popular as well.

Overtime has already started for the Inbound shifts (receiving and stowing).  For workcampers, it is mandatory to do 50 hours, and voluntary if you want the 60 hours.  Outbound (picking and packing) is not expected to see any overtime until after Thanksgiving.  This is how the schedule went last year as well.  A few new folks in picking were a little concerned about not getting any overtime, but once they understood we cannot pick what is not on the shelves, they seemed to understand.  And most people wait until December to start their shopping.  That’s when we will be doing the 60 hours (my mind is willing, but my body is still cringing!!).  By Tuesday night (which is our ‘Friday’), we are pretty tired and usually fall asleep watching television around 8pm!  Yes, this RV life can be very glamorous!

The 12th and final group of workcampers will be starting November 11th.  They have also started hiring the seasonal temporary employees as well.  They offer both full-time and weekends only shifts.  We will see a lot of the temp workers in the picking department.  At the end of each shift, we do have to pass through metal detectors.  It usually takes a couple of minutes to get through, but the lines will start to get a lot longer now.  Amazon does provide anyone that wants a clear plastic fanny pack or purse, which does make it easier to go through the lines.

 

For anyone with pets

Makena’s dog food was starting to get precariously low, so we started looking online for retailers that sell her Innova brand of dog food.  The closest store was 44 miles away (one way).  Amazon is pretty pricey for dog and cat food (although they sell a lot of it), so we decided to try out Chewy.com.  We have no affiliation with the website, so if you click on the link, we don’t get any money or anything.  But we are posting this because of our very positive experience with them.  Not only did they have very competitive prices, but free shipping on orders over $49.00.

We placed an order on Wednesday, and about 2 minutes after we submitted it, we received a call from a pleasant customer service rep confirming our shipping address, since our billing address is SD and our shipping address is KY.   About 3 hours later we received an e-mail stating our order was processed and ready for shipping, and they provided the UPS tracking number.  This morning (Friday), I was out walking Makena and saw the UPS man delivering our package to the campground office.  Everything was well packed.  Our package totaled 38 pounds, so we were very pleased we did not have to pay for shipping.  And Makena has a few toys for Christmas (oops, I guess I am one of those that buys Christmas presents before December!!).  The super fast shipping makes it great for any RV’er.

Quote for the day:  “In the world of internet customer service, it’s important to remember your customer is only one mouse click away.” – Doug Warner

 

 

Amazon – has it been 4 weeks already??!!

Wow, we can’t believe we have just finished our fourth week at Amazon.  What a difference a year makes!

Last year, our first at Amazon, was so frustrating at the beginning.  The physical part of walking all day was not so much a problem.  But the confusion of learning where everything was in the building, as well as the mind-numbing tedious nature to our jobs made for a difficult first month.  This year was truly a ‘piece of cake’!

The two hardest parts of Picking is learning the buildings, as you will be all over the place, and you must do so in a very timely manner.  The second part is just accepting the fact that Picking is a very, very boring job.  You will spend most of the day talking to yourself, as that is who you will be working with!  Breaks and lunch are the only time you really have to talk with anyone, other than a quick ‘hi’ when you are passing people in the building.

You can prepare for the physical nature of the job, but the mental part was truly an adjustment.  This year, knowing full well what we were getting into, made for a much easier transition.  You have to give yourself 4 weeks to not only condition your body, but your mind as well.  Most of the folks who quit, usually do so before their fourth week.  But if you can stick it out, you will meet a lot of nice people, learn about good/bad places to work, and get in shape as well.

Heartland Campground

This year we decided to stay at the campground that is technically across the street from Amazon in Campbellsville, KY, Heartland Campground.  Most people here refer to it as the ‘rockpile’, as it is really nothing more than a gravel parking lot, with white paint outlining your site.  But it has 50 amp, water and sewer, and Amazon pays 100% of the cost.  Although the Green River State Park where we stayed last year is beautiful, we decided to save time and gas money by walking to work.  The parking lot at Amazon gets very congested after Thanksgiving, and we spent a lot of time waiting in long lines.

Heartland Camground

Heartland Campground

If you look closely at the right center of the picture, you can see Amazon.  Not exactly ‘across the street’.  From our door to Amazon, it takes us 8 minutes to walk (a little quicker on those 45 degree mornings!)

Amazon in the distance

Amazon in the distance

Here is a zoomed in photograph of Amazon from the roof of our fifth wheel.

Amazon

Amazon

This campground has space for 100 RV’s, of all sizes and shapes.  We opted for the farthest row from Amazon, as it overlooks some green space.  We chose our spot so Makena would be looking into trees, and not other people. It also is a good area to walk Makena and play some football (it’s always about the pets, you know!)

view out back window

view out back window

Amazon Updates

This week we attended the ‘all hands on deck’ meeting for the month of October.  It is the last all staff meeting for the year.  The first thing the general manager emphasized, was that this facility was not going to close.  Last month, it was announced the center in Coffeysville, Kansas will be closing in February.  (this is one of four sites they hire workcampers at).  All the employees at that location can transfer to any facility of their choosing.  Apparently since that announcement, the rumors were flying that this location would be next.  The GM emphasized they have just signed a new long-term lease here, and they were making many improvements to the facility, including the repaving of the parking lot, which has already begun.  That seemed to make a lot of people happy.

They also talked about the projections for peak season, as well as overtime.  It looks like we will be able to get the same amount of overtime as last year, for outbound (picking and packing).  Inbound (stowing and receiving), will have even more overtime opportunities.  They will be hiring another 1500 people for the peak season, so the building will be getting pretty full, as it was last year.

The employees celebrating their 15 years at this location were also announced to the group.  The GM said this location has the most employees with the longest tenure at Amazon.  In  addition to receiving an additional grant of $2000.00 in stock options, they received a $100 Visa gift card, and a nice jacket.  One of the gals wore an orange shirt with the words “15 years of hard time” on the back!  That got a laugh out of the group.  She said in 4 years she will be ‘paroled’!

The GM also talked about the bonus for the regular employees for October.  Apparently, every month that you have perfect attendance at Amazon, you get a 4% bonus.  During the months of October thru December, it is doubled.  And if the facility meets their production goal, there is a 6% bonus for the employees.  The GM said they are on track to meeting the production bonus, which means the employees with perfect attendance will receive a bonus of 14% for the month, based on their base pay.  That made a lot of people happy.

We haven’t been doing too much on our days off.  Just resting and getting caught up on some things we neglected this summer.

Quote for the day:  “All things are difficult, before they are easy.” – Thomas Fuller

 

 

 

Amazon, our 12 week fitness program

 

We started our fall work camping job, at Amazon, in Campbellsville, KY on September 30.  This is our 2nd year at Amazon (you can search through our September – December 2013 blogs if you want to read more on our first year, or on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail).  This year they changed the first week format a little, as we started on a Tuesday, with orientation and safety school.  We worked 5 hour shifts Wednesday thru Friday, in your assigned department. Saturday was an off day for everyone that started that week.  Week two you go to your regular work days, but only 5 hour shifts again, for “work hardening”.

We are group number 6 (they start a new group each week, until November 14th) and had about 35 people in our group, only 3 of us assigned to first shift picking.  Here is a  photo of our group:

Group #6

Group #6

We asked for, and received, the same shift/department as last year.  “A” shift, which is Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, from 6:30am – 5:00pm, with a 30 minute lunch break.  We will be Pickers again.

A little history about Amazon and Campbellsville, KY

The warehouse, or Fulfillment Facility as Amazon calls the building, is one of the 5 oldest facilities.  It was originally a Fruit of the Loom factory, and when they relocated to another country, it caused massive unemployment in this small community.  Amazon bought the facility in 1999, and just celebrated 15 years in this location.  Many of the employees that started with them, are still here.

And if you think back to 1999, how many of you were ordering items from Amazon?  They were mostly selling books back then, and now they sell just about everything.  As Amazon has grown, they have used all the space in this building, which makes for some challenges when picking items.  Things do not go in alphabetical or numeric order, like they would in a newer facility.  And even this year, they have added even more shelves in some areas.

Work camper positions at Amazon

Amazon divides up their positions into Inbound and Outbound areas. Inbound is Receiving and Stowing, outbound is Picking and Packing.  There is also ICQA, which is the quality control department. There are other jobs in these areas that they may transfer you to when needed.  Dan and I both did ICQA a few days last year (very hard on the knees), and Dan was in transship in the mornings a few times, which he enjoyed.  I was in gift wrap for one afternoon, which was horrible!  Amazon has very high standards for how a package should be wrapped, and no matter how hard I tried, my packages looked rumpled.   No matter where you are, the jobs are physical.  They run two shifts, 10 hours each.

In simple terms, Receiving unloads trucks and puts the merchandise on carts.  Stowers take the carts of merchandise and put it on the shelves.  There is no pattern to where the items go.

Pickers have a cart and a scanner, and go pick the items off the shelf, put them in a tote, and on to a conveyor belt.  The totes go to the various Packing departments, where they are sorted, boxed up, and sent on to be loaded on to the trucks.  Everything is bar-coded, and no customer information is ever displayed.

When you interview with Amazon, they make no secret of how strenuous the positions are.  Many  workcampers have said this is the hardest job they have ever done.  We both agree with that, and add that Picking is also the most boring job we have ever had.  But here we are for our 2nd year!  Why?

As the title of our blog implies, this is our 12 week fitness program.  Last year Dan lost 28 pounds and I lost 8 pounds, in 12 weeks, even with greatly increasing the amount of food we consumed.  Some people pay to join a gym, we have Amazon pay us to walk, and walk, and walk.

We enjoy Picking because you are left on your own to work.  It’s just you and your scanner (which we occasionally yell at!).  On average, you can walk about 10 miles plus a day in Picking.  There are 4 floors (Pick mods) in three buildings so you will be walking up and down the stairs as well.  Items are in bins, and your scanner will tell you where to go, what item is needed, and the quantity.  Some days you will spend an hour or two in the same area (pick mod), and other times you will be moving all over between the buildings.

All workcampers have to meet production standards.  They expect the workcampers to perform at 85% of what the regular full time employees do.  In Picking, this means if an employee should be picking 100 items per hour, we need to be picking 85 items.  All workcampers are expected to be at 100% for quality.  If a customer orders a red, medium shirt, you need to pick a red, medium shirt.  If you don’t, your scanner will beep at you.  Quality is very important, as every customer service is very important to Amazon.

 

Quote of the day:  “There’ll always be serendipity involved in discovery.” – Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com)