It seems corporations will try everything, other than treating its employees like human beings, to make their workers happy.
Having just recently succeeded in keeping their workers in Bessemer, Alabama from unionizing, Amazon announced a bunch of bullshit wellness initiatives called WorkingWell in an attempt to help make their pushed-to-the-limit workforce more mindful. The higher ups at Amazon believe such programs will cut down on injuries. From Vice:
The program will feature “physical and mental activities, wellness exercises, and healthy eating support” that are “scientifically proven to help them recharge and reenergize.” Part of the program will see the rollout of what Amazon is calling AmaZen, which sounds like it came straight from the writer’s room at Black Mirror. AmaZen “guides employees through mindfulness practices in individual interactive kiosks at buildings,” according to a press release. During shifts, “employees can visit AmaZen stations and watch short videos featuring easy-to-follow wellbeing activities, including guided meditations, positive affirmations, calming scenes with sounds, and more.”
According to the release, workers will also get hourly prompts at their work stations “guiding them through a series of scientifically proven physical and mental activities to help recharge and reenergize, and ultimately reduce the risk of injury.” These prompts, called Mind & Body Moments, can include “stretching recommendations, breathing exercises, and mental reflections,” and Amazon says the program will evolve to serve more personalized prompts to workers.
So now, while human beings are rushing to fulfill orders and load trucks will have robots telling them to relax, stretch and breathe. I can’t imagine anything less relaxing than being told by a machine with no bills to pay to relax in that scenario.
How do I know that this wellness program is bullshit? Because all wellness programs are bullshit. In fact, everything that has ever carried the ambiguous label of “wellness” is pure snake oil. As Vice points out Amazon hasn’t done the one thing that could actually help workers: reduce their work load a little.
After all, just last September it was revealed that Amazon lied to the public and lawmakers about recordable incidents and covered up how its injury rates were increasing nationwide at well over 100 warehouses. The WorkingWell program offers no guarantees similar cover ups will not happen again, nor does it offer any solution to the fact that work is so demanding at Amazon that employees urinate in bottles and defecate in bags.
“Safety is the top priority for everyone at Amazon. While many companies under-record safety incidents in order to keep their rates low, Amazon does the opposite – we take an aggressive stance on recording injuries no matter how big or small,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement to Motherboard. “While any serious incident is one too many, we learn and improve our programs to prevent future incidents. We are proud of the thousands of Amazonians who work hard every day innovating ways to make our workplaces even better. We encourage anyone to come see for themselves by taking a virtual tour of one of our fulfillment centers.”
Instead of lowering productivity targets or curtailing worker surveillance, Amazon seems to be figuring out more complex and elaborate methods of getting the most out of workers.
If you were wondered how this new programs helps Amazon’s drivers, who spend their days speeding to deliver 400 packages in a single 10-hour shift without adequate bathroom or lunch breaks while their own company spies on them, it doesn’t. The employees at the most risk of hurting themselves and others, Amazon’s drivers, continue to be forced to pee and defecate in their trucks to meet the overwhelming demands of their very dangerous jobs. Wired spoke to a driver who finally threw in the towel over the AI cameras designed to watch drivers every move. She reached out to her fellow drivers and found out she wasn’t alone:
Casey (not her real name) was sick of the “group stops,” multiple nearby stops marked as one, despite sometimes falling blocks apart. She was sick of the cattywampus routing, making her retrace her tracks to accommodate individual delivery windows. She was sick of the oppressive monitoring app docking points from her safety score for hard braking or speeding up, even to avoid a collision. Low scores meant potential lost hours or even termination. Now her boss was about to stick an AI camera in her face that would record her every expression, potentially dinging her for yawning. When the app asked for permission to do just that, she declined. She put in her two weeks notice.
Later that week, Casey got a DM from Ron, a Canadian DSP driver. He was fed up too. (Casey and Ron withheld their real names out of fear of jeopardizing their jobs.) Last month the two launched an informal online survey to see whether other drivers were facing similar issues. Some 500 people have responded so far. They complained about the relentless pace, about the Mentor app surveilling and scoring their every move, about feeling the need to cheat to get around its hypersensitivity. (Casey said her boss advised her to download Mentor on a secondary phone and avoid touching it.) They complained about the pay—80 percent of respondents make between $15 and $17 an hour—and the cameras. The “fucking cameras.” The “stupid fucking cameras.”
And it’s not just Amazon’s policies that makes the job more difficult. Amazon drivers are attacked, robbed at gunpoint, bitten by dogs and murdered all while trying to meet unreasonable quotas and deadlines while the company puts all the responsibility for safety on tired, stressed out, harassed workers.
So Amazon, keep your B.S. wellness in the lush corporate offices in Seattle. The people who make your whole business model possible need real change right now, and no amount of good vibes is going to change that.