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By Jaclyn Diaz
Amazon’s nationwide push to hire 50,000 workers drew several hundred job applicants to a Baltimore warehouse the morning of Aug. 2.
Their motivation for showing up early and standing in line for hours was varied: Some wanted a first job out of school, others a career change or a position that offers better hours.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, which has tried in vain to organize Amazon employees, had harsh words on July 27 when the company announced plans to hold “Jobs Day.” It called the company anti-union and alleged workers are mistreated.
Those accusations were of no concern to the job seekers who spoke to Bloomberg BNA Aug. 2. Nor did any of them express a desire to work in a union environment.
It seemed all of the applicants were just looking for an opportunity.
Gabrielle Capozzoli, 45, of Edgemere, Md., currently works three jobs. Her job at Food Lion schedules her 20 hours a week at most, which is why she was waiting in line at the Baltimore fulfillment center, she said.
Amazon is a big company that can offer her a dependable full-time position so she won’t have to juggle multiple jobs, she said. E-commerce or internet-based companies are Capozzoli’s “best bet yet” because the internet isn’t going away anytime soon, she said. “I know Amazon will be here for a long time.”
Capozzoli stood in a line that stretched around the building and across the parking lot, and that scene played out in nine other U.S. cities as the company launched its first Jobs Day. The goal is to hire 1,200 workers for the Maryland warehouse, which currently employs 4,000.
Nationwide, the company aims to hire nearly 50,000 workers. The other centers that welcomed applicants Aug. 2 are in Chattanooga, Tenn., Fall River, Mass., Kenosha, Wis., Etna, Ohio, Hebron, Ky., Kent, Wash., Robbinsville, N.J., Romeoville, Ill., and Whitestown, Ind.
Most of the warehouse workers are called fulfillment associates, and they pick, pack, and ship items to Amazon customers.
The positions available in Baltimore are part-time seasonal “sortation” associate, full-time fulfillment associate, and part-time seasonal shipping and receiving associate. The hourly pay ranges from $12.50 to $14.
Health care, holiday pay, an employee discount, and a tuition assistance program are available to workers.
Job offers given out on Aug. 2 were contingent on a background check and other stipulations, Lauren Lynch, a spokeswoman for Amazon, told Bloomberg BNA.
Amazon claims it is hiring 50,000 new workers, but the company’s business model will go on to “destroy tens of thousands—if not millions—of retail jobs through automation,” Marc Perrone, president of the UFCW, said in a statement July 27.
“Amazon is a retail monopoly that threatens every corner of our nation’s economy. Left unchecked, it will eradicate jobs, small businesses, and countless American retailers across the nation,” he said.
The prospective applicants were more optimistic.
“There’s always someone that needs to operate those machines,” Chris Ward, 23, of Baltimore, told Bloomberg BNA on his way to join the line just before 8 a.m.
Others said they had friends inside the warehouse or had experience working in those conditions and knew long hours standing or walking the facility awaited them.
For young workers like Meca Bazemore, 27, of Baltimore, Amazon’s mass hiring gave her an opportunity to get out of a waitressing job at the city’s Horseshoe Casino.
She wanted a better-paying job that could help support her tuition for school. Bazemore is working on a multimedia art and design degree.
At the casino, workers have been trying to organize for the past three years but have been unsuccessful, she said.
If she gets a position at Amazon, Bazemore isn’t looking for representation. She also isn’t concerned about accusations of poor working conditions.
“I’m keeping my head down and working,” Bazemore said. The center will be just a job—a good paying one at that, she said.
The average wage for nonunion workers in Baltimore is higher than those in a union, according to Bloomberg BNA labor data. The average unionized worker wage is $31.40 per hour. Nonunion workers get $32.74 on average.
Employees applying to work at Amazon’s fulfillment center are generally interested in using their experiences as the first step toward more opportunities, Lynch said. An employee who starts as a fulfillment associate has a chance to move on to communications, human resources, or other managerial positions, she said.
Kevin Tusan, 60, from Beltsville, Md., has been working for AT&T in customer service for six years at the same pay as when he started, he said.
“I want to look for something that’s more challenging, something new” and a chance to move up in a company that appreciates hard work, he said.
Many workers arrived an hour before the event’s starting time of 8 a.m. Those who arrived after 8 or even 8:30 a.m. were pushed far back in the line.
Tusan, Bazemore, and others weren’t surprised at how many people showed up in search of a job.
“If you post an open call for a job on social media, you’re going to get a big response. People need a job,” Tusan said. It’s a struggle to find a decent-paying job in the area, he said.
In Baltimore County, the unemployment rate is at 4.1 percent, just under the national average of 4.4 percent recorded in June, according to Bloomberg BNA’s labor data.
In other cities where the Jobs Day was being held, unemployment rates are also under the national average, the data show. Only Kent, Wash., showed an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent.
While many applicants said they were open and willing to try any position with Amazon, a former employee said many really aren’t prepared for the work.
Sharon Vass, 46, of Baltimore, worked at the warehouse when it first opened in 2015. She stayed for 11 months before needing to leave to care for a sick relative.
In her previous experience, workers cycled in and out of the center, she said. “It’s usually people who are not used to standing or walking for a long time.”
It takes time to get used to the kind of work they do, she said. She estimated a good number of people offered a job at the center Aug. 2 won’t return after the first couple of weeks.
Tusan said he is ready.
“I’m told it’s very demanding and long hours,” he said. “I’m not daunted by that.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jDiaz@bna.com
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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