WASHINGTON — Everyone knows about the lines of Amazon trucks that stretch out of Washington’s Area 51 and span the Virginia and Maryland suburbs.
Now, they have a literal stand-in.
A tornado formed at the location last Saturday morning and struck near where the largest number of Amazon trucks are stationed, according to Walter Whitman Washington Regional Airport.
That is not the location of the headquarters for Amazon’s Prime fulfillment service. The company has yet to announce where that home will be built, but the storm caused infrastructure problems in the area.
Amazon said it had no significant impact to operations and the company remained on schedule for its peak delivery season.
The tornado came on the same day that Amazon took the wraps off its new Amazon Verified Checker app for employees.
Employees at the Amazon fulfillment centers have access to Superfund, brownfield and other sites around the Washington region in the hope of filling orders. Checkers ensures that jobs go to those who take the quickest trip to the site.
I joked that the “Verified Checker” might be a sign of Amazon’s insistence on quality toasting its employees and exploring new ways to improve their earning potential.
An Amazon spokesperson had a different thought.
“We don’t view our support for the construction of facilities or the region as the underpinning of our business,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Instead, our focus is on supporting our employees who are working with a partner (usually an employer) to make sure they succeed. We want to ensure our employees are treated like family and have the opportunity to grow their careers. Our employees from Amazon Verified are treated with respect and dignity and given the opportunity to grow and develop.”
It is important to be sensitive about job perks, but the Verified Checker is an example of Amazon’s cost-cutting in its fulfillment centers.
The company typically hires thousands of temporary workers in its fulfillment centers, turning them over at the regular season so it is not in a time crunch when it can hire more full-time workers. This gave Amazon the opportunity to lose hundreds of permanent employees over the weekend, when workers were hired to work the storm.
There is no shortage of worker woes in the fast-growing e-commerce world. In East Harlem and other neighborhoods in New York City, workers are living in overcrowded housing, surrounded by Amazon warehouses where they work. In Chicago, Amazon warehouses have filled to capacity and the workers commuting into those areas face multiple daily commutes, meaning their families have little or no proximity to food and housing.
Some day, Amazon’s Verified Checker app might be a check for workers on who had the shortest road trip from the fulfillment center to the workplace.