Students’ experiences as Amazon workers differ from reputation

Over the years, Amazon has garnered a reputation for poor working conditions, with employees reporting multiple instances of unjust treatment from management. These are national-scale concerns that Amazon has been trying to rebut. 

But it seems that these conditions are not applicable in every warehouse, according to Calvin students who have worked as employees for Amazon. 

According to Josh Broekhuizen, Kameryan Koning and Dori Tjapkes, three Calvin students who all have experience working in an Amazon warehouse, safety and training were prioritized, but turnover of fellow workers was high. 

All three students agreed that safety was very important in their warehouse and the managers followed the procedures well. Amazon provided various supplies for injuries and offered thorough training for new hires. Broekhuizen, a chemical engineering major graduating next spring, said the e-commerce company required more training than any job he had ever had before. Koning, a film and media major, also mentioned how Amazon has an agreement with Zappos, a shoe company, to give discounts on work shoes to employees.

Tjapkes, a senior majoring in actuarial science, is still employed at the warehouse in Caledonia, Michigan, and has worked there for a year and a half. She appreciates how flexible her warehouse is with her school schedule. “They have a special schedule for students, it’s not set,” she said. “You only pick up shifts when you want to. So when I have a busy week and can only do one shift, it’s no problem.”

Amazon refusing to allow employee break times was also a national complaint. According to the employment law handbook, Michigan labor laws “do not require employers to provide breaks, including lunch breaks, for workers 18 years old or older.” However, Koning and Broekhuizen both said how Amazon chooses to provide breaks and is very strict about employees taking them, usually granting three breaks throughout the course of the day.

On the other hand, it does seem Amazon experiences high rates of employment turnover everywhere. According to Koning, there were different people every week — especially once September came and school started. He compared it to being in the army, or “indoctrinated” into working at Amazon.

In all, however, none of the students Chimes spoke with had much negative to say about Amazon as an employer. Tjapkes commented that all the work she was asked to do was reasonable if she was working hard, and that managers weren’t overbearing if she fell behind. “One thing I like about it is that your manager has done your job before,” she said. “They won’t ask anything unreasonable.”

According to Broekhuizen, the particular warehouse at which he was employed handled COVID well. “We had six feet separation between each other, which wasn’t a problem as a packer who used six to ten feet of space alone already,” he said. “And managers walked around reminding us about the mask policy.” There was even a policy in place providing paid leave for workers who contracted COVID.