The Plight of the Real Santa’s: What Over Consuming Means for Your Delivery Person
By Emily McQueen - Copy editor
The semester is ending, Christmas is right around the corner and students are holly and jolly, ready to use their time off school to have fun. Yet the idea that the holidays are a joyful time of year isn’t agreed upon by everyone. Warehouse employees under large companies making inconceivable profits selling gifts, for example. For these workers, your “most wonderful time of year” is a stressful, emotionally and physically draining and sometimes unsafe nightmare. Testimonies from Amazon employees in New York recorded by the Guardian and local statistics on the work environment in warehouses in and near Montreal from a 2019 report by the Immigrant Workers Center (IWC) reveal just how bad the reality is for workers during the holidays.
In the article “I’m not a robot” by the Guardian, Rina Cummings, an Amazon warehouse employee shares her experience in the unsafe, grueling conditions of an Amazon warehouse. She works three 12 hour shifts for a total of 36 hours a week. Her job is to inspect and scan Amazon packages at a speed of 1,800 packages an hour, adding up to one package every two seconds. Sometimes packages burst and Cummings must stop work to clean up, which causes her to miss her requirement. When this happens, the employee can get written up, potentially leading to termination if occurring frequently, which according to Cummings, is most of the time. During these long and restless hours, the workers get one 30-minute break for every 5-hour shift and an additional 10 minutes off for every four hours of work. The latter has only recently been altered by the company because previously employees had difficulty finding time to go to the bathroom.
Far worse than the long hours and the high pressure of the job are the often-ignored safety guidelines and regulations. In the Guardian’s article, Cummings explains that injuries are common. She had recently almost lost her hand because of a pin sticking out of the conveyor belt, a carrier system used in the Amazon warehouses. The warehouse also drops packages from a chute that are either too large for the conveyor belt which they land on or are improperly packed. Employees have also been injured by the contents bursting out of packages. Cummings testifies that managers often ignore her disability accommodations that are required by law and are recommended by her mobility counsellor for her impaired vision. The only accommodations that Amazon underwent were painting safety lines in bright colours in the warehouse and putting safety tape on the stairways, an accommodation so simple it would take little to no time and cost barely anything. What’s even more irksome is that her managers consistently try to schedule her in departments unfit and unsafe for her. Two order pickers, unnamed by the journalist out of fear of the company’s response, have shared experiences with Cummings. One claimed that their manager ignored his health restrictions after a foot surgery causing them knee pain. The worker had to take time off to heal. The other order picker suffers from chronic back and knee pains. They are often forced to use paid time off for rest and recovery. An Amazon spokesperson responded to all accusations of unsafety in their warehouse, his statement says that the rate of injuries of company staff is high because Amazon is in fact more transparent than other companies with the number of injuries reported, which is probably why employees felt a need to testify about unsafe and grueling work environments.
These examples are from New York, but the situation in our local warehouses also leave much to be desired. In Montreal, immigrants often have few employment opportunities because of language barriers. Thus, they are often obligated out of necessity to get hired in warehouse jobs through temporary placement agencies, meaning they are not assured long-term employment. In the 2019 report by the Immigrant Workers Center, 40% of the temporary warehouse workers did not receive proper safety nor health training and 42.9% weren’t supplied with adequate safety equipment. In a Montreal Dollarama warehouse, safety practices were sacrificed to push productivity leading to several accidents involving heavy packages plummeting from upper storage rooms, all for the company to have Christmas decorations in store the day after Halloween.
In the interest of not contributing to these conditions, here are some alternative gifts ideas for this holiday season. You can commission Dawson students who are also local artists like @satin.stiches on Instagram who makes clothes, stuffed toys and hats or @dumb.blondebeads who makes stylish accessories. Local artists often sell their products on Etsy, too. Experiences such as concert tickets, Carousel rides, dinner dates or sports games make meaningful gifts as well as memorable experiences. You can also order from ethical fair-trade companies. Lastly, if you are out of money, craft something yourself! Remember, the best gifts come from the heart, not from the hands of an underpaid and neglected warehouse worker.