In Honor of Labor Day
Emily Guendelsberger spent several months working at an Amazon fulfillment center in Kentucky, a Convergys call center in North Carolina, and a McDonald’s in San Francisco. Her account of this time is an enraging, eye-opening, essential book.
In her exposé, Guendelsberger focuses on the dehumanization caused by technology, where everything you do is monitored and timed down to the second.
Working in an Amazon warehouse outside Louisville, Kentucky, I walked up to 16 miles a day to keep up with the rate at which I was supposed to pick orders. A GPS-enabled scanner tracked my movements and constantly informed me how many seconds I had left to complete my task.
Working at a call center in western North Carolina, I was lectured about how using the bathroom too often is the same thing as stealing from the company, and had the minutes I spent in the bathroom tracked in a daily report sent to my supervisor.
I found it especially disturbing that the technology related to increasing worker productivity worked flawlessly, but the technology that the call center workers actually used to do their jobs was slow and archaic. At one point, the author gives a several-pages-long description of the nightmarish logistical maneuvers it took to deal with customer issues because of cobbled-together databases whose multiple, slow-to-launch windows had to be navigated while trying to listen and keep up her end of the conversation (usually while someone was screaming at her).
Guendelsberger’s overriding point is that people are not robots, and cannot be treated as such. I especially liked her gauge of "Do you have to ask permission to go to the bathroom?" as a way to underscore the inhumanity of these jobs. Many more fortunate employees (psst…you’re the target audience for this book!) not only don’t have to ask to use the restroom during their work day, they can also chat with a coworker, get a cup of coffee from the break room, and otherwise act like human beings, not machines. All workers deserve these freedoms.
On this 125th anniversary of Labor Day being celebrated as a national holiday, consider the time and effort of workers who pulled, boxed and delivered your front stoop delivery.
Happy Labor Day!