This story has been updated to include a comment from Amazon that was provided after the story was published.

Workers at Amazon’s ATL6 fulfillment center in East Point are pushing for higher pay, stable scheduling and guaranteed hours after Amazon started unexpectedly shortening their shifts–often during the actual shift.  

This year, management has started “flexing down” their schedules, which means hours are eliminated from their shifts with no notice, the workers say. Management also eliminated a morning shift entirely. 

According to Ronald Sewell, who’s worked at the ATL 6 fulfillment center for six years, management began shortening workers’ four-hour shifts–or “sorts,” as they’re called–just over two months ago.

After an unspecified number of orders have been packaged, Sewell said, “They’ll come back and they’ll say it’s time to go home. No more work. And what happens is that fourth hour, we don’t get paid for it. In the past, they automatically paid us for the remaining time.” 

Because of Sewell’s seniority, he’s frequently able to work double sorts, and he makes the maximum hourly rate of $18.40 an hour. By comparison, new hires make only $15.50 an hour.

Escalating demands

Working with United for Respect, the ATL6 employees sent a collective letter to Amazon management on May 3 to raise concerns over the unpredictable scheduling and hours reductions at their fulfillment center, which employs 1,500 people. United for Respect is a national advocacy nonprofit for retail workers, not a union, but it’s helping workers organize at Amazon, Walmart and other big companies.

In the letter, employees pushed for more transparency and cooperation from management. “We, the associates affected by proposed changes, should have a full understanding of how our work and lives will be impacted, and we should have a say into how these decisions are made,” they said.

“Not being able to count on a set number of hours every day means that we cannot count on a set income to pay our bills, cover expenses, and provide for our families. We never know how much we’ll have at the end of the month, and this economic uncertainty is a constant source of stress and worry,” the ATL6 workers said.

They included 72 handwritten individual testimonials on how the unpredictable hours and pay affect their lives. Without stable scheduling and guaranteed hours, workers wrote, they can’t plan childcare, take care of elderly family members, pay rent, pay medical expenses, cover their bills, or, some said, even afford to get to work. Some said they’ve been forced to apply for food stamps. One succinctly summed up what they can’t do without guaranteed hours: “Live!!!” 

Amazon responded with two all-hands meetings–the first on May 17 and the next scheduled for May 18–but an ATL6 worker representative said management was not receptive to their concerns at the first meeting yesterday and didn’t answer any questions about pay raises, scheduling, or hours, which the fulfillment center workers have been flagging for months. 

“As part of our business, we sometimes need to make staffing adjustments in order to best meet our customer promise. We constantly review our staffing needs to ensure appropriate coverage, and build in shift flexibility to stay nimble,” said Amazon spokesperson Mary Kate Pardis. “We expect these adjustments will be temporary and communicate with our employees in real-time. When permanent scheduling changes are made, we provide notice as far in advance as possible and through multiple communications channels”

Written testimonials from ATL6 workers

‘Flexing’ shifts down

Atlanta Civic Circle spoke with Sewell, one of the lead organizers for the labor action and a Tier 1 associate who trains new employees, to get a better understanding of the on-the-ground issues facing the Amazon ATL6 fulfillment workers. 

The sort shifts make working at an Amazon warehouse different from many other jobs, Sewell said. Sorts are typically four hours long and there are six per day, resulting in 24-hour warehouse operations. “Within the last few months, management came in and pretty much changed things,” he said. 

Employees used to be told the total number of packages they were expected to process for the whole day, he explained. That gave them a relative idea of the productivity expectations for every four-hour period. It also gave them a clear target. 

Now, employees get told an approximate package number at the beginning of their sort and that’s it, he said. Sometimes management ends the sort before the four hours are up and Amazon doesn’t pay workers for the remaining time. 

Sewell said this practice–called “flexing,” because sorts can flex up or down–was fairly rare until the last few months. But now, he gets flexed on his sorts most of the time. 

He said most associates work around 20 hours a week, which equates to five sorts, so getting flexed down for multiple sorts a week can quickly eat into their economic situation. Making matters worse, he said, is management’s recent elimination of a morning sort shift.  

The demands around fairer scheduling, hours, and pay are the most recent in a series of jockeying events between the ATL6 workers and management since the workers partnered with United for Respect last year and started calling for better wages. 

In September, they delivered a petition with over 300 signatures to Amazon management calling for $18 base starting pay and a $5 an hour raise for other workers. In October, two workers involved in delivering the pay petition filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board alleging they were fired in retaliation for organizing and speaking out. 

The Amazon ATL6 workers are sticking together and recently formed a committee that will continue to advocate for more transparency from management, Sewell said. “We all get together and talk to each other. We find out about everyone’s issues and go from there.” 

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1 Comment

  1. I was fired last month after submitting a statement about another worker harassing me about collecting work for myself. I wasn’t given a reason or an appeal form. Someone also ILLEGALLY OPENED AND POWERED UP my tablet and found porn videos. I didn’t give permission and I wasn’t present. They also looked over my shoulder while I was doing my homework on their desktop computer. I reported all of this to the Legal Department. I hope something can be done.

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