The holidays are here, and it’s peak season at Amazon warehouses. The company has in the past been known for overloading its workers to the point that they don't have time to use the bathroom during the normal season. Peak season often means that a warehouse’s package influx will double. Workers who spoke to Motherboard say they’re assigned mandatory overtime for almost 60-hour weeks, working up to 12 hour shifts, or delivering to over 200 stops a day.
One worker told Motherboard that the company had brought in 25 new hires to take on some of the work—and before their first day was over, 20 of them had left.
“Peak season at Amazon is exhausting,” one warehouse worker in the Great Lakes region said.
Motherboard spoke with five Amazon workers in warehouses and delivery centers across the country about their experience working during peak season. The workers spoke on the condition of anonymity, because they could lose their jobs for talking to a reporter. An Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard that workers’ contracts explicitly allow them to speak to reporters.
“During peak, [management] gives you a notice that they may call MET,” the Great Lakes region worker said. In peak season, Amazon implements what it calls mandatory extra time, or MET, to be able to meet its delivery requirements. “If there’s overtime available, they give us the option. I haven’t heard of a case of them not giving that notification, or saying that you can leave when it’s time to leave. They have us slated to work past working time.”
Amazon knows that working peak season is exhausting, but tries to put a positive spin on the whole situation.
Motherboard obtained copies of Amazon Peak fliers for the season after they were included as an exhibit in a filing by the National Labor Relations Board earlier this month.
“This year, as a team we are looking forward to Peak Season,” one flier reads. It includes a bullet-point list of things workers should do during peak, such as “Celebrate — our customers, our teams, all that we have accomplished together,” and “Have Fun!!”
“Take Care of Yourself During Peak,” a second flier reads. “Tell your manager right away if you experience an injury, illness, discomfort, or fatigue and go to the AMCARE office. First aid providers in AMCARE can provide onsite injury or illness support and self-care resources for you to get back to feeling your best. The WorkingWell App library has a collection of wellness information to support you at work and at home.” The AMCARE office serves as Amazon’s on-site urgent care clinic.
The flier also encourages Amazon workers to stay hydrated—“Yes, even when it’s cold outside!”
The NLRB filing also included some Amazon Benefits fliers. Some of the benefits listed are Twill Therapeutics, a “scientifically designed” series of games that purport to offer help with reducing stress and stopping negative thoughts, and Resources for Living, which offers workers three free counseling sessions per year.
A second warehouse worker, based in Massachusetts, explained that during the normal season, most full-time workers are in the warehouse 44 hours per week. They said the company’s peak scheduling has employees working 55-hour weeks—11-hour shifts, five days a week—with the possibility of voluntary extra time, or VET, in addition. “That extra day is not a choice,” the worker said. “It's what we have to do. We're forced to work it.”
Motherboard obtained a copy of a sample peak schedule at JFK8, a mammoth Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, NY, from the NLRB filing. Workers in most divisions are set to extend their working hours to 11.5-hour days four days a week, and add an additional 11.5-hour day every week. That would mean they are working a minimum of 57.5 hours a week. Days with regular working hours instead of MET are not specified on the schedule, meaning the workers could have even longer hours.
Amazon spokesperson Steve Kelly told Motherboard in an email that the company’s peak season starts mid-October and ends in late December. He wrote that workers were never required to work more than 60 hours a week, or more than 12 hours a day.
Peak season at JFK8 started on Black Friday and is slated to end on Christmas Eve.
“We are put through a very grueling and unsettling process during the peak season,” the Massachusetts worker told Motherboard. “It takes a rigorous toll on us, both physically and mentally.”
Peak season is famously difficult in the delivery industry. As the holidays approach, companies like Amazon get a massive influx of package orders, and they usually opt to schedule their workers for longer hours to be able to meet delivery deadlines. Amazon already has an industry-high turnover rate of 150 percent, which is largely attributed to hourly employees quitting—and workers say that the impending stress of the season made even more people leave.
“A lot of people dropped out before the holidays because they knew what was coming with the schedule and with the workload,” one Amazon driver in Virginia said. “It's a ridiculous pace to ask anybody to do. It's going to be detrimental to their health. The thing about trucks that most people don't realize is that it's extremely hard on your knees, because you have to get in and out of a truck 200 times a day.”
“We absolutely are feeling that we're very understaffed right now,” an Amazon warehouse worker in the Midwest said. “One day we were 40 people short, because people don’t want to come in. They see the workload that comes in, and say, ‘I’m not making nearly the money that I deserve in order to do this job.’ So a lot of people just stay for an hour or two. We had an orientation group of 25 new people. The first break hit, and out of the 25 people, only five came back.”
Workers complained that Amazon was not offering peak pay, an initiative it introduced during the pandemic. For the past two years, workers said, they would receive an additional $3 per hour during peak season. Holiday pay is by no means required, but it is common across industries—however, workers across multiple locations told Motherboard that they had not gotten peak pay this year, and that their management had not addressed why, even after being asked.
“The $3 was barely worth it, but at least that's something,” the Midwest worker said. “Like, ‘Hey, we recognize that this is a really tough time, especially during the holidays, and realize that we're making you work 55-hour weeks right now. We get it. This is a small contribution we can do in order to ease that for you.’ The company keeps making more money from us. We're left out to the wind.”
“We deserve fair treatment,” the Massachusetts worker said. “People say, ‘Well, if you don't like it, quit,’ but it's not that easy nowadays. As a father and everything, I pay rent, I have oil for heat. Having that extra money helps during Christmas time and with inflation.”
Amazon spokesperson Kelly said the company had not implemented peak pay for the year, but that it had invested $1 billion into giving the majority of hourly employees raises this year.
The Massachusetts worker said that the workers at their facility had gotten their raises in October—the amounts, they said, ranged from 25 cents to $1.25. “It all went by how long you've been tenured with Amazon,” they said. “It was up to a 13.25 percent pay increase that most everybody got.”
“They kind of think that people are stupid and they don't actually figure things out,” they continued. “But I did the math. One thing that they forgot to mention was, come 2023, our health insurance [cost] is going up. By 13.43 percent. The pay raise was to offset our health insurance increase.”
Amazon currently charges its full-time workers $91 monthly on a standard plan if they’re only paying for themselves, but that number quickly climbs if a spouse or children are added onto the plan. This payment amount is effective through the end of 2022. Motherboard could not find any confirmed costs for Amazon health insurance in 2023, but if insurance costs do increase by 13.43 percent, single users of standard plans would pay over $100 monthly. An Amazon spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on any health insurance cost increase.
“This is a multi-billion dollar company, and it should be able to pay its people for making it more money,” one Amazon driver in Georgia said. “If they’re making that money, we should be able to see some of it.”
Workers also say that Amazon is offering new hires this year a $3,000 sign-on bonus. After the first 30 days worked, new employees receive $1,000, with the rest being paid out after they hit the 60- and 90-day marks. But this doesn’t seem to be helping the company’s holiday retention, veteran workers told Motherboard.
“We had lots of new hires because they wanted bonuses,” the Great Lakes region worker said. “They worked a shift or two, and in the middle of a shift they say, ‘This work is not worth the money that we’re being paid.’ Lots of people are using up their paid time off, or even their unpaid time off, just to get out of there.”
Amazon is historically very strict with time off. During a union election effort at ALB1, the company’s Albany warehouse, workers were scared to serve as observers for the union because they were told the time spent doing this would be deducted from their unpaid time, or UPT. Kelly, the Amazon spokesperson, said “UPT was NOT deducted if employees chose to serve as a union observer at ALB1. Any misnomers about this leading up to the election at ALB1 were quickly addressed by our team on the ground at ALB1.”
Motherboard previously reported on workers who had to commute across the U.S.-Mexico border every day, and were docked UPT if crossing an international border made them late for reasons outside their control. Once their UPT was gone, Amazon would fire them.
Workers more generally said that peak season was mentally taxing, because of the extreme pressure and long extra work hours.
Kelly wrote in an email to Motherboard that the company hired tens of thousands of seasonal employees to help with the workload. “The holidays are our busiest time of year and we’re proud to deliver for our customers, but also work hard to balance the workload so our frontline employees are able to rest and spend time with their families and friends,” Kelly said.
“It’s very, very hard on people’s physical health, but also their mental health,” the Georgia driver said. “They aren’t giving extra pay, but the only incentive is to work more days a week during a time that is so often about being with family, friends, and loved ones across the board. The only incentive is one that keeps us from being with our families more.”
“People show up because they still need the money,” the Massachusetts worker said. “They still have families. Everybody still has bills to pay. But there has been a major drop in morale. With the increased volume at our station, we're doing all this extra work, which is taking time away from our families and from what we need to do personally. But we're not getting any type of gratitude for it whatsoever.”
“We’re tired of constantly pushing for better,” the Georgia driver said. “I don’t think we’re at the point of being willing to settle anymore.”
Update: This story has been updated with additional context from Amazon.