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Undercover Warehouse Temp Tells Her Story

Written by StaffingTalk

Undercover Warehouse Temp Tells Her Story I have worked at a few warehouses in my life. I still have a couple scars on my forearms from one of them — caused by repeated burning. Working there sucked bad.

Undercover warehouse worker/journalist Mac McClelland recently took a job at a major online retailer shipping warehouse and lived to tell the tale.

She calls herself a Warehouse Wage Slave. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Her story is well-written, descriptive and even funny. Even if you disagree with her.

Some highlights:

Before Mac starts her new job the woman at the local chamber of commerce says “Don’t take anything that happens to you there personally.”

“They need you to work as fast as possible to push out as much as they can as fast as they can. So they’re gonna give you goals, and then you know what? If you make those goals, they’re gonna increase the goals. But they’ll be yelling at you all the time. It’s like the military. They have to break you down so they can turn you into what they want you to be. So they’re going to tell you, ‘You’re not good enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough,’ to make you work harder. Don’t say, ‘This is the best I can do.’ Say, ‘I’ll try,’ even if you know you can’t do it. Because if you say, ‘This is the best I can do,’ they’ll let you go. They hire and fire constantly, every day. You’ll see people dropping all around you. But don’t take it personally and break down or start crying when they yell at you.”

Pretty sound advice. To say this place has a reputation around town would be a gross understatement.

“You’ll see people dropping all around you. But don’t take it personally and break down or start crying when they yell at you.”

The hiring process, conducted by a staffing agency, sounds pleasant:

“Though I was kind of excited to trot out my warehouse experience, mainly all I needed to get hired was to confirm 20 or 30 times that I had not been to prison.”

“We answer questions at computers grouped in several stations. Have I ever been to prison? the system asks. No? Well, but have I ever been to prison for assault? Burglary? A felony? A misdemeanor? Raping someone? Murdering anybody? Am I sure? There’s no point in lying, the computer warns me, because criminal-background checks are run on employees.”

The video they watch warns of their evil co-workers.

“In the center of the room, a video plays loudly and continuously on a big screen. Watch out, because some of your coworkers will be the kind of monsters who will file false workers’ comp claims. If you know of someone doing this and you tell on him and he gets convicted, you will be rewarded with $500.”

This place sounds awesome already!

During training, they brag of a story of how they fired a man for missing one day because his woman had a baby.

“It’s my 28th hour as an employee. I probably look happier than I should because I have the extreme luxury of not giving a shit about keeping this job.”

“The gal conducting our training reminds us again that we cannot miss any days our first week. There are NO exceptions to this policy. She says to take Brian, for example, who’s here with us in training today. Brian already went through this training, but then during his first week his lady had a baby, so he missed a day and he had to be fired. Having to start the application process over could cost a brand-new dad like Brian a couple of weeks’ worth of work and pay. Okay? Everybody turn around and look at Brian. Welcome back, Brian. Don’t end up like Brian.”

She begins to describe the job, but it doesn’t sound much different than your typical picking/packing gig: high goals mixed with intense motivation.

She sounds surprised that a temp agency would have an office in the warehouse.

“There are so many temps in this warehouse that the staffing agency has its own office here. Industry consultants describe the temp-staffing business as “very, very busy.” “On fire.”

I have to disagree with her here. Just because the temp industry is “on fire” doesn’t mean it’s because they are taking advantage of people. There are thousands of successful temp agencies who do not treat their employees like this.

Back to the grind. Do they get work breaks? Yes, but not before going through a metal detector. If they DON’T set off the metal detector they get searched by hand.

“You look way too happy,” an Amalgamated supervisor says to me.

“Really?” I ask.

“Well,” the supervisor qualifies. “Just everybody else is usually really sad or mad by the time they’ve been working here this long.”

“It’s my 28th hour as an employee. I probably look happier than I should because I have the extreme luxury of not giving a shit about keeping this job.”

“Charging for shipping does cause high abandonment rates of online orders, though it’s not clear whether people wouldn’t pay a few bucks for shipping, or a bit more for the products, if they were guaranteed that no low-income workers would be tortured or exploited in the handling of their purchases.”

And that really is what it’s all about. Survival of the fittest. People have no room to complain about this while they continue to buy from the cheapest retailer without consideration of how employees are treated.

Do you really care? Or do you just want the lowest price?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. Jaoquin Marks

    No one would want to work under these conditions. Reading a story like this makes me thankful I don’t have to work like this any more. It’s easy for someone to say, “Go to college and you won’t have to deal with this” but that’s not necessarily true.

    I once lived in rural Indiana. After the crash of 2001, it seemed like every job disappeared. The desk jobs I thought I was entitled to were no longer available because my credit score wasn’t high enough. I’m serious. I didn’t get an $8.65/hr desk job because of my credit score. It wasn’t even that bad.

    In a town like this, your next best bet was the warehouses. While literally breaking two fingers at a certain warehouse, I had two college grads as co-workers.

    “Why are you working here?” I asked incredulously.

    “I can’t leave this town. My wife could never leave her family,” he replied while shrugging his shoulders.

    It all depends on job supply and demand. If you live in an area where jobs are more readily available, employers have to care about retaining their talent.

    Whereas, if a factory is the only job in town it’s: “You’re lucky to have a job. Shut up and work. Harder. Faster! There’s 20 people just waiting to take your job!”

    At these places, it doesn’t matter how smart you are or how good you are at your job. You feel like a machine and you are treated like a thief who is stealing their money.

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    • gregg dourgarian

      Joaquin, while i appreciate your story i don’t buy for a second the guy who says he can’t leave town for a better opportunity.

      Excuse me but the hell he can’t. Affection for his family is no excuse for not supporting them properly. Assuming he’s drug free, he can hitchhike TODAY up to northwest North Dakota and get a very high paying job.

      It’s a disservice to the many Americans who’ve made those hard sacrifices to get ahead to assert that he can’t.

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      • Jaoquin Marks

        @Gregg – That’s pretty much what I told him. He made it sound like if he chose to leave town for a better job his wife would not go with him. I guess we all have choices to make in life. He made his.

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      • Jerrelle

        Who wants to live in North Dakota? I might rather work at this factory. At least I can keep my beaches! lol

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      • Rick Landry

        Perhaps you should have a better understanding/experience of the situation around Williston, N.D., before you encourage people to drop everything and head up there. Do you have any idea how grave the housing shortage? How high the rents? What it costs to “live” in a so-called man-camp? How much the slum lords of Williston gouge for space to park your camper or trailer on their property, often without any services provided? Somehow I don’t think you are aware of the realities of Williston; all you have heard is there’s plenty of work to be found and the pay is relatively high, right?
        My son spent his first two nights upon arrival in Williston sleeping in a dumpster behind a mattress factory because there were no lodgings available anywhere, period. Gradually he got a small trailer and moved it around to various slum lords lots. And after about a year and a half, he got into an incredibly overpriced apartment, and he considers himself lucky!
        Oh, and the job he found, by the way? A Wal-Mart warehouse…

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        • gregg dourgarian

          That’s a great comment Rick and thanks for sharing it. I will try to use it on a future post re Williston.

          Congrats to your son on toughing it out and to you as a Dad who raised a kid to take matters into his own hands.

          How much is he making at Walmart? Is he not getting better job offers?

          I know there are staffing company readers up in Willison. Any advice for Rick’s son?

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  2. Becky Braums

    I read the Warehouse Wage Slave article this morning. Thank you for adding your comments to it. If I may, I would like to add mine. I have worked at many factories and some of them have been the worst of the worst and a few were actually pretty good jobs. The ones that were the worst were made worse by the people in charge and the coworkers. The great ones were made great by the coworkers and people in charge. The latter being the healthy and more profitable company so you don’t have to give up service, common courtesy or decency to turn a profit. That’s the problem with manufacturing settings, often the ones in charge are so focused on the bottom line that they forget to take a look at the workers driving the success of their business. In all actuality if they would invest a little time and attention to the workers, engage and reward – give incentives – a reason to come to work beyond the line and the paycheck – they might just see a higher return on investment. It’s easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of business but using the advantages of the dark side will ultimately come back to haunt you. Business karma is real.

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  3. gregg dourgarian

    Becky, thanks for your excellent comments which mirror much of what i hear from manufacturing executives and staffing company owners who do get your point about karma and act accordingly. They are successful and profitable because of it.

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  4. Tom Landry

    This article points out the problems with the staffing industry and the clients that buy it.

    Let’s talk about the client first. Who made the buying decision, local management or corporate procurement? I recently experienced the corporate buying experience, they hired a company that had no presence in the market,no concept of fulfilling the client need. They promised they would hire sub contractors and skim 3% off the top.
    No reputable service would do the deal. The chosen company failed miserably and the client had to get 12!!! services to help out during their peak season. Who did service the account? Companies that needed the business so bad they would take anything. My question is does the person at corporate still have their job?

    What has the client experience been over the years? Five staffing companies all promising “Me too, I’m cheaper” all over promising and under delivering. I half way understand the client, they are all horrible so why pay more or try to do better, just drive the most you can get from what we have.

    On the supplier side, they are hurting for business so bad they price it at the slimmest margin to try to make something. What happens they cut staff, cut corners and you end up with the wonderful screening process described in the article.

    What is the solution? Stop buying the way you buy, demand the service you want, be willing to pay for it and your cost will drop. This process of beating down the provider is resulting in doing business with who ever is willing to do it not the best supplier for your needs.

    This is a big problem in the industry right now and suppliers need to start saying no and clients need to start understanding that they are not saving money. They are throwing it away with over staffing, over time, reworks, quality drops, and customer relationships strained.

    Wake up people! People are not a commodity!

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  5. Plant manager

    It’s not the guy running the plant who buys cheapest. When his lines go down he’s in there at midnight fixing things and calling up the buffoon in headquarter purchasing that went with national deal ten cents cheaper that sends over drunks.

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  6. Lisa Gallant

    It’s good to have some go undercover to find out what it is like to work as a temp worker-it’s not the greatest-you’ll always have a few people-employed with Company that will treat you like crap-I’m one of those people who worked through 4 different Temp Agencies-it’s been like this for a lot of years for me-you can be out work for days,weeks,months or longer.I know the feeling-they don’t respect you for the work you done at the workplace,someone who was always been a hard worker.The peole you work along side with don’t seem to appriecate for what you do.

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  7. Lisa Gallant

    I have first applied with Lift-temp on Feb.28,2007-5 years ago-first started at ACCO Canada-located here in Brampton,Ont.,where I like-a lees than a 10 minute drive from there-Satrted 5 days later-on Mar.5,2007-for the first 6 weeks-Dayshift-then I was let go andmany times after that all these years-not once did they want to hire me-WHY?-I don’t know-I wnt back with the agency just last year in Sept.30,2011-started back at ACCO again-on Oct.2 intil the first week in Nov.2011.Since then up to this year-I’m stiill out of work-What I would like to see is to all the Agencies all shut down for good all over-this is why I-like lots of other people are not able to get full-time,permanent work-I would like know the real reason why-I feel there is something wrong.They always have something to hide.Even looking for work on our own,without the agencies is just as bad-very hard-because no one wants to hire any more-and those stupid Unions-need to make changes.laern and listen to us who are struggling.

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