DESPITE A 95-percent jump in first quarter revenues, the workload at Amazon.com's local warehouse, the Seattle Distribution Center (SDC) in Georgetown, has dwindled by at least 50 percent since January, according to a longtime SDC employee. "On a normal day we'd have about 20,000 packages," the employee says, "but now it's like 10,000 or 5,000. We're operating at really low volume." The Amazonian, who wanted to remain anonymous, also says staffing in Georgetown has dropped from about 300 to roughly 75. (Warehouse workers have not been fired, though; they have been given the opportunity to take vacations or temporarily reassigned to spots at corporate headquarters--displacing temps in some instances.)

According to company spokesperson Bill Curry, the scale-back is simply part of a strategy to "reposition" the Georgetown operation. Nervous employees, however, think that's doublespeak for "shut down."

Curry wouldn't say if "repositioning" portended a smaller or bigger role for the SDC. "It's a different role," he says vaguely. Last year, Amazon added five warehouses to its distribution arsenal around the country, increasing space from 100,000 square feet to three million square feet.

At the beginning of this year, local warehouse employees were warned about the impending work slowdown. Evidently, management is readying the warehouse for a mysterious new system called AMS. Presumably AMS has something to do with automation, but the warehouse employees we spoke with weren't clear on it, and Curry--surprise--was mum.

Rumors are flying that the Seattle warehouse may be on the chopping block. "I wouldn't be surprised if it was phased out," says one employee. The move would certainly jive with CEO Jeff Bezos' pledge to cut costs and finally turn a profit. The five new warehouses (and there's another on the way) are in less costly labor and real estate markets. Indeed, warehouses have opened in Kansas and North Dakota, among other states.

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