The High Cost of Cheap Stuff
We live in a country - and at a time - when there is an overabundance of cheap stuff. Everyone’s a savvy shopper hunting for the best deal. More and more frequently, that seems to mean purchasing things online. With prices this cheap, who could resist? Not to mention the convenience! But what if people really knew the hidden costs of those deals? What if they knew how they were contributing to poor working conditions and disturbingly low wages? What if they knew the human cost to our fellow citizens?
I spent two and a half months working in a warehouse that supplied Amazon with used books. They were the most exasperating, demoralizing and wretched 11 weeks of my life. I was hired as a data entry clerk, meaning it was my job to input a minimum of 1600 books in my eight hour shift – that’s 15-20 seconds per book – while making sure that I had accurately recorded the condition of each book and determined whether it was really sellable or needed to be tossed.
We worked in a large empty, drafty warehouse in the dead of a freezing winter with no heat to speak of. I routinely wore 4 layers of clothes and two sets of gloves but was still shivering cold. There was no running water, though after the first couple of weeks they did finally bring in porta potties for us to use.
Being one minute late during your first week was cause for automatic termination. Not meeting a 1000 book quota by the end of your first week was cause for termination. If you met the quota you would be given a higher quota and again failing to meet it was cause for termination. Being late more than twice after your first week was cause for termination. It boiled down to a simple belief, everyone is expendable. There was no qualifications needed to get hired – seriously none, I worked with convicted felons and openly racist neo-nazis who harassed coworkers just to name a few - so there was always a waiting list of folks willing to fill your disposable spot.
Everyone was paid minimum wage and if you got fast enough, you got a measly pay increase but get more than 2 or 3 of these and you would be out of a job. Forget benefits, they would never be offered. Complaints, suggestions, or questions would get you terminated. Snow storms and icy roads were no excuse for leaving work early or not being able to make it in on time. Your safety didn’t matter. Get injured on the job and need to see a doctor? If you missed work to go to the doctor, you’d get a warning (a couple of those and you’re terminated). And with no insurance you would invariably have to miss work to get seen at the free clinic.
I thought it was just the company I worked for that behaved like this. Then I read the expose, “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave“. Then I started talking to others who worked for the online consumer machine. The story was the same again and again. The details were different but always it was a demoralizing, dead end, and low wage job. A job that worked you so hard that you were too exhausted to look for another job and where it was too risky to take time off for an interview that wasn’t a guaranteed job.
I’ve been told I should have quit and looked for another job, but after months of job hunting it was the first place to offer me a job. For everything else, my bachelor’s degree made me overqualified or not qualified enough – because someone else had just that much more experience or a master’s degree. I never thought I would tolerate such working conditions but when your choice comes down to a roof, food, or medicine you’ll do anything to keep some money coming in. Even though that measly amount still qualifies you for welfare.
That’s the other part, these hard workers in low wage jobs usually qualify for some sort of government assistance. And frankly, they need it to survive. So that cheap price at the register? How much are you really saving when your taxes are now being used to subsidize that company’s low wages, in the form of (needed) government assistance to the worker?
As one friend put it when I told her what it had been like, “I’m beginning to open my eyes, there’s a third world country within our own country where people are worked to death and can’t afford to live.” That’s just it, there is a third world within our own country and every dollar you spend can either feed that machine or put an end to it. When you spend money on a company that exploits your fellow citizens (or any human being), your complicit in that exploitation. It’s time for Americans to wake up, to vote with their dollar, to stand up for the fair treatment of their fellow human beings, to stop chasing after cheap stuff you don’t need, and most importantly to understand the high cost of that cheap stuff.
- Low-Wage Workers Hit Hardest by Workplace Injuries, Illnesses (talkingunion.wordpress.com)
- 10 Facts Retailers Don’t Want You to Know About Online Shopping (talkingunion.wordpress.com)
- How Online Giant Amazon Prevents Workers From Receiving Unemployment Insurance (thinkprogress.org)