Work Camping at Amazon

Work Camping at Amazon

The Tin Can Travelers February 23, 2019 No Comments

This post is meant to provide information about our work-camping experience at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Murfreesboro, TN, the Amazon CamperForce online application process, RV accommodations, and important changes for CamperForce 2019. It’s a worthwhile read if you’re interested in work-camping at Amazon.

Online Application

The online CamperForce Application itself is rather simple. It’s consists of all the typical questions you expect to be asked (personal information, employment history, etc), but also has some work-related scenario questions tailored to discover how you would handle certain situations. You will choose which Amazon location you prefer to work at (city and state) from the provided list, and possibly a “backup” location in case your first choice isn’t available. You will also choose a shift (days or nights) and the job/position you’re most interested in.  

Jobs / Positions

The three primary positions Work Campers seem to fill the most are: “Stowers,” “Pickers” and “Packers.” You’ll be provided the details for what each position entails, but simply put… A “Stower” is responsible for placing various items on shelves and inside bins located within the fulfillment center (also known as a warehouse), a “Picker” is responsible for retrieving those items from the shelves and bins, and a “Packer” packs the “picked” items, which are then shipped to the customers who ordered them. 

Drug Screening

You will be required to complete a drug test before you’ll be offered a position, but this won’t take place until shortly before your start date. Last year we were sent to a drug-screening facility near our location to complete this, but this year it appears as though we’ll be attending a “New Hire” Amazon Event (even though we’re not new hires), in one of several states not yet determined, where the testing and some final paperwork will be completed. We learned this during a Webinar session, which is also new.

The webinar is an hour long and simply skims over basic information about the different positions offered, safety, the “New Hire Event” and changes made in 2019. I’ve listed those important changes toward the end of this post. These changes will impact your MONEY. The webinar also provides Work Campers an opportunity to ask any questions they might have. 

The Process

The process for acquiring a work-camping job with Amazon is quite long. You may be offered a contingent position fairly early on in the process, but it won’t be official until you pass the drug test which you won’t take until closer to your scheduled start date. In 2018, we started the online process in January and weren’t offered positions with Amazon, “officially”, until we completed our drug tests approximately two months before our November 9th start date. Having said that, although the process is lengthy, it’s not difficult. There will be long blocks of time when you won’t hear anything from Amazon, and when you do, it will just be an email letting you know you haven’t been forgotten. It’s recommended you start the application process as soon as it’s made available. Amazon offers only so many CamperForce positions each year, so there’s plenty of competition amongst Work Campers for those jobs. The longer you wait, the less-likely you are to secure one.

Hours, Shifts and Pay (Murfreesboro, TN)

Day shift at the Murfreesboro, TN, fulfillment center was from 0730 to 1800 hours, and night shift was from 1830 to 0500 hours. We each earned $15.00 per hour and always worked at least forty-hours per week, which consisted of four ten-hour days. We were required to work four days per week and a fifth day if it was requested, and we could choose to work a sixth day if it was offered. Working seven days was not allowed. 

The only exception to our schedule was the first week of work, which was thirty hours. Ten hours the first day, five hours the second and third, and ten hours the fourth. This was designed to help ease us into a forty-hour work week. 

Our Day, and Possibly Yours Too

We were “Pickers” at the fulfillment center in Murfreesboro, TN. If you’re a Picker as well, then this is essentially what your day will look like: Arrive at work and place your lunch in the refrigerator and your jacket, purse, etc. in your assigned locker. Grab a hand-held scanner and sign into it, and then “punch the time clock” so you get paid. Meet everyone on your particular shift at the “standup” area for a “pep talk” and some light stretching. Once the “pep-talk” is over (approximately 5 minutes), head to the area of the warehouse indicated on your scanner. Grab a cart (looks similar to a grocery cart), grab two plastic rectangular containers and place them on your cart, and then scan one of them. Your scanner will then tell you what aisle and bin number to retrieve your first item from. Walk to the indicated aisle, find and scan the bin, scan the item you’ve retrieved from the bin and then place the item in one of the plastic containers on your cart. Once you’ve completed that, the scanner will tell you where to go next and you’ll repeat this process over and over and over again. You will sometimes walk forty aisles to retrieve one item, and then back another forty for the next. You will move from the first floor to the third floor and then back down to the first, and sometimes from one end of the warehouse to the other. Think enormous when you think about this particular warehouse, and then multiply that by a thousand. And expect to walk between seven and twelve miles a day! None of the items we retrieved were heavy, so it’s not strength you need worry about at this particular warehouse, it’s being on your feet for over nine and a half hours a day and for several days in a row. 

QUICK NOTE: The locker referred to earlier is not automatically assigned to you. It’s available if you want it, and it’s free, but you have to request it. The lock and combination are also provided free of charge. Without a locker, you’ll either have to leave your jacket, cell phone, purse, etc in the public area inside the warehouse, which everyone has access to, or your vehicle in the parking lot. We don’t recommend either. Keep in mind, cell phones are not allowed in any area of the warehouse except for the public area already mentioned, an assigned locker, and the lunch room. 

The Pros and Cons of Working at Amazon (in our opinion)

Pros:

IT’S AN ACTIVE JOB! The Amazon Fulfillment Center we were stationed at was one of the most active jobs we’ve ever had. It’s not strenuous (for a person without certain physical restrictions), but it is continuous. As “Pickers”, we literally didn’t stop moving for over nine and a half hours of our ten and a half hour shifts. Most people live somewhat sedentary lives, whether it’s behind a desk at work or in front of the television at night, so we consider this a much healthier alternative.

WE LOST WEIGHT! Because our jobs at Amazon were physically active, we couldn’t help but to lose weight. That’s a definite plus! 

IT’S EASY! There’s nothing mentally challenging about the job. You don’t have to possess a special skill or knowledge, and the training is very basic. We can only speak for the positions we held (Pickers), but we’re pretty sure that goes for any job you choose (Stower, Picker, Packer). It’s very simple! 

YOU’RE NOT MICRO-MANAGED! Well, you’re sort of not micro-managed. No one is physically watching over you or your work. The scanner you use, however, does monitor your productivity, but as long as you’re not slacking you’ll never hear from anyone. 

THE PAY! As stated earlier, we were hired on at $15.00 per hour and there are opportunities for over-time. Ten hours of overtime is sometimes mandatory, but there were opportunities to work up to twenty extra hours. The overtime hours are where you can make some pretty good cash. 

CAMPSITE STIPEND! Amazon does not consider the $550.00 monthly campsite stipend as money paid to you. This means you don’t have to report it as earned income. The Details on this are listed below under “Changes That Will Affect your Bottom Line in 2019.”

BUILDING THE RESUME! This one applies to ANY work-camping job. If you’re a full-time RVer and depend on work-camping jobs to support your chosen lifestyle, then building your resume with work-camping jobs is important. You would be surprised how many employers looking to fulfill temporary work-camping jobs require resumes.

Cons (Some of the “Pros” are also“Cons,” ):

IT’S AN ACTIVE JOB! If you’re already the type of person who walks several miles a day, then you’re off to a good start! However, there’s a big difference between walking four or five miles a day, outside or on the treadmill for an hour or two, and being on your feet and walking on concrete for over nine hours a day. The first two weeks were pretty rough, and we consider ourselves to be in decent shape. We both had the occasional blister to deal with, and tired, achy, feet and backs until we adjusted. We were big fans of Aleve! Our suggestion is to wear a good pair of sneakers with a thick sole.

Also keep in mind that the position of a “Picker” is quite repetitive. Many of the items you’re retrieving throughout the warehouse are located in bins above your head. This means you’ll most likely use your primary arm/hand to pull the bins out and down to retrieve the item you’re looking for. Do this a thousand times a day (literally) and you may experience some aches and pains in your shoulder, arm and hand.

IT’S EASY! As previously stated… there’s nothing mentally challenging about the job. It’s simple, repetitious, and quite boring at times. As a matter of fact, it’s so simple it’s almost mind-numbing. This can make an already very long day even longer. 

THE PAY / OVERTIME! The hourly rate of $15.00 is descent, but it’s in the overtime where the real money is made. During the six weeks we were there, we were only required to work a fifth day twice. Overtime hours were offered on several other occasions, but then rescinded. There was no consistency. Don’t get us wrong, we wouldn’t have volunteered to work more than the required five days, but if you’re looking to work five and six days every week, we’re not sure that’s something you could rely on. 

WORK, SLEEP, GET UP, REPEAT! The shifts alone are quite long, but once you figure in the time it takes to get ready for work and the drive to and from, your 10 ½ hour day just turned into 13-14 hours. Working day shift means you’ll leave your camper when it’s barely breaking light and get home well after it’s dark. So, whether you work four, five or six days a week, there will be little time to do anything on those days other than work, eat and sleep. If you’re going there to work as much overtime as you can, then you’re probably already prepared for this, but for those who just want to work the required days, you need to know the days you’re working will be consumed and you’ll still need to take care of “life” stuff (cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, etc.) on your days off. You will be busy while you’re there! 

ANTI-SOCIAL! Most, if not all, employees at Amazon have a quota to reach (even CamperForce workers ), so there’s not a lot of time for socializing. While we did meet some interesting people, because the warehouse is so big and your assigned section changes frequently, many of the people you meet you may never see again. In short, although the warehouse contains hundreds of workers at any given time, the atmosphere and requirements of the job don’t allow for a very social experience. We mostly bonded with our car-pooling buddies, Cindy and Josh.

Our Campground Experience

We stayed at Tennessee Hills Campground in Manchester Tennessee. This campground is in a rather rural area but stays true to its name since it’s set atop a hill and surrounded by beautiful trees dressed in red and orange leaves during the fall months. The drive up to the campground is quite beautiful and the environment makes for great walks with your partner or furry companion on your days off. We have a short video of the road leading to and from the campground  on our Facebook page, and a short drone video of us leaving on December 22nd, if you’re interested. 

This particular campground comes equipped with full-hookups, a descent sized grassy area, covered picnic tables, showers, a very small laundry room, and an extremely kind, helpful and knowledgeable Camp Host. The route to and from Amazon is a straight shot, so the drive is simple (25-30 minutes) and we never encountered a lot of traffic… even on school days. Our main priorities were a safe location to park our home for a short period of time and easy access to and from work. Tennessee Hills Campground provided both. 

Changes That Will Affect Your Bottom Line in 2019 

-In 2018, Amazon paid 100% of campground costs but is now only providing a $550.00 stipend to go towards campground fees. In other words, if you choose a campground that costs $600.00 a month, Amazon will cover $550.00 and you will be responsible for the remaining $50.00. There are some campgrounds that cost less than $550.00 per month, which means it would still be completely free, but these aren’t available for each fulfillment center. Amazon will provide you with a list of campgrounds for each fulfillment center that they’ll contribute to, and that you must choose from, and if the $550.00 stipend doesn’t cover the entire cost, you will have to pay the difference. We noticed several campgrounds on the list that cost considerably more ($200 – $350 more) than the provided stipend.

In 2018, Work-Campers quickly snatched-up the “nicer” campgrounds that offered more amenities and were in better locations because Amazon was covering all the costs. Now, however, you may see the opposite happening. Because Amazon is only providing a stipend, there could be some fierce competition for the cheapest locations.  

-In 2018, Work-Campers received a bonus of $1.00 for every regular hour worked, and $1.50 for every overtime hour worked. This, of course, was dependent on your ability to fulfill your end of the deal. The bonus this year, however, is .50 for every regular hour worked and $1.00 for every overtime hour worked. An obvious decrease.

Assuming we work the same number of hours we did last year, we estimate the newly implemented campground stipend and the decrease in bonus will cost us around $350.00. Overall, we don’t consider this a huge loss. 

Some Advice

Know your limitations and select a position that best accommodates your situation. For instance, after reading the job description for a “Packer,” I knew right away that wasn’t for me. My back hurts if I stand in one place for too long, so I chose to be a Picker because it was clear I would be walking. Regardless of the position you choose, however, you’ll most likely have an adjustment phase to get through since most people are not used to standing and moving (frequently on concrete) for over 9 1/2 hours a day. Some fulfillment centers have even longer hours.

If you’re unsure how you’ll adapt to the work or environment, sign up for the least amount of time available. I believe that’s right around six weeks. You’ll know at the end of that six weeks if you’re willing to sign up for a longer period of time the following year, or whether to return at all. We worked six-weeks last year, and now that we know the physical demands of the job, we’re confident we could work for a longer period of time.

Don’t take it for granted. As with any job, there will be things about this one you don’t like. Always remember, though, it is what you make it and it’s temporary! And for the money and accommodations provided in exchange for your temporary employment, it’s a pretty good deal! Even with the newly implemented campground stipend and slightly lower bonus, you’re still making well above $15.00 per hour. Also, and this is important…  all previous Work Campers get first dibs at a returning position before Amazon allows the general public to apply. So, if you want to return each year, you have to do a good job. As a “returnee”, Amazon will check your “re-hire eligibility” status each year. We assume this means Amazon looks back at your previous year(s) with the company and determines if you did a “good job” (stayed on task, reached your quota, showed up every day, was on time, etc.) before offering you another position. Apparently, we did a “good enough” job because we are both eligible for re-hire… YAY!

We hope this post provides you with information you can use, but don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to subscribe to our Blog, and check us out on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter! 


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