Holiday shopping season kicks off with temp workers who have no rights

Amazon’s recruitment of 80,000 temporary workers is a symptom of America’s culture of the low-paid seasonal worker. As Americans prepare for holiday shopping, hundreds of thousands of temporary workers around the country are counting on two months of long hours and few rights in warehouses or checkout lines, in what has become the norm for seasonal workers in the country. 

Workers at Amazon have 10-12 hour shifts, which keep them on their feet and walking 5-10 miles a day with two timed 15-minute breaks besides a 30-minute lunch break. While staffing agency advertisements promise “up to $14 an hour”, Amazon pays its workers an average rate of $11 an hour. Workers also have to spend nearly 30 minutes every day queueing for the post-shift security check, in place to ensure no items from Amazon’s inventory have been stolen. Amazon does not pay employees for this time.

Jeff Bezos’ Amazon pays $9 to $14 an hour for services that are a little more strenuous than pictured here. Photograph: Rex Rystedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty

Jeff Bezos’ Amazon pays $9 to $14 an hour for services that are a little more strenuous than pictured here. Photograph: Rex Rystedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty

The US has developed an environment where workers can’t expect many protections, says labour economist Mark Price. He says the current situation has been 30 years in the making. The rights of workers are not high priority when the labor market freely offers surplus temps. Seasonal workers are considered dispensable and replaceable. But Price points that the problem may be larger. 

“It’s part of American culture,” concedes Price disappointedly, referring to generations of managers taught to disregard the needs of individual workers, temporary or full-time.

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