The Seattle Times recently got a tour of Amazon's "fulfillment center" in Kent, apparently as part of an effort by Amazon to rebut claims in a new book that decries Orwellian, "prison"-like conditions in the company's warehouses.
But what Times reporter Nina Shapiro found in the Kent warehouse, just 20 miles south of Seattle, was not exactly idyllic.
Employees at the Kent warehouse must pass through "airport-style metal detectors" on their way in to work, and while on the job have their every move tracked to assure they're meeting productivity targets.
If they're not on task, then Amazon notes that they've been spending "time off task."
Using the bathroom, of course, is not an on-task activity. "We’ve been told to watch how much time you’re in the bathroom,” a Kent warehouse worker told Shapiro.
Another worker explained that while employees are, in fact, allowed to use the bathroom, "you can’t stay for that long."
The upper limit before a warehouse worker runs into trouble with Amazon's tracking system? “Six minutes tops," this worker told Shapiro.
After that, the tracking system is sure to note that one's productivity has dropped below acceptable limits.
“We do not monitor toilet breaks,” Amazon firmly told Shapiro. But, the article makes clear, the company does closely monitor its warehouse employees' other movements because, as an Amazon spokesperson said, "we expect a certain level of performance."
In Kent, according to this report, that level of performance is incompatible with a bathroom break that's longer than six minutes.