Amazon is a very rich company, with a market cap of $US361 billion ($481 billion) and stock price of over $US750 ($1000) a share. But as we’ve seen, the fortune of huge tech companies don’t often translate down to its employees. In some cases, it leaves them living in squalor.
Take the blight of Amazon’s warehouse workers, especially its non-permanent seasonal employees who work long hours during the holiday season. In Scotland, some Amazon warehouse workers have had to resort to sleeping in tents in order to save money and commuting time. The depressing report, which comes from The Courier, says that “at least three tents” were spotted in the woods near a fulfilment centre in Fife, Scotland.
Why are these workers in the woods? Apparently because Amazon doesn’t pay enough for a living wage and the employees, many of which work more than 60 hours a week, would rather sleep in a tent than pay to commute home each day. An employee told The Courier:
One worker, who did not wish to be named, was reluctant to speak to The Courier but did describe the firm as a “poor employer” and criticised working practices at the Fife site.
He added that he had opted to stay in a tent as it was easier and cheaper than commuting from his home in Perth, although his camping equipment had disappeared by Friday afternoon.
In a statement to the newspaper, Amazon said that it “provides a safe and positive workplace” and that “the safety and wellbeing of our permanent and temporary associates is our number one priority”. But the idea that some employees are braving subzero temperatures to work at the Amazon warehouse clearly goes against that.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen employees for tech companies result to ridiculous living conditions. A few years ago, a former intern squatted inside AOL’s campus because he couldn’t afford to live in Silicon Valley after his internship was over. For two months he hid in the shadows and took advantage of free Wi-Fi and food.
Various Google employees have also admitted to living in trucks or RVs, sometimes even inside the Google parking lot. One San Francisco software engineer even keeps a blog of his living situation inside a truck. The high wages Google offers apparently aren’t enough to outstrip the cost of rent in the Bay Area for some employees. Quora threads offer tips to those that want to forego running water in hopes of paying off student loans and maybe eventually buying a house. Google, for its part, doesn’t necessarily allow this to happen, but it’s willing to turn a blind eye to employees who basically live at the office or sleep in the parking lot.
One could argue the insane perks offered to employees of super rich startups in Silicon Valley almost makes these types of living situations seem OK. Employees are expected to work long hours, and in exchange they get laundry service, on-site shower and gym facilities and lots of free food. You can almost see how an employee who is already spending 12 or 14 hours a day at the office would wonder, “Why am I paying money for rent when I basically live here anyway?”
But it isn’t normal for workers to live in the backyard of their employer. It just isn’t. It’s also not normal to live in glorified dorm rooms under the guise of “co-living“. Yet, that’s increasingly becoming a thing, and the prices for this type of housing are just rising higher and higher.
The insane rental costs in New York and San Francisco are hurting the economy and tech companies are largely doing little to help the problem. In fact, some companies are even profiting off of these types of working conditions, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for glorified hostels. Meanwhile, those outside of the Silicon Valley elite are affected as well. Earlier this year, an illustrator began literally living in a box in his friend’s living room, just because he can’t afford San Francisco’s insanely high rent. He pays just $US400 ($533) a month, but is literally living in something smaller than a gaol cell. (San Francisco later called this arrangement “illegal”.)
But back to the Scots in the tents. What’s particularly egregious about this situation — what makes it worse than the engineers who would rather live in a converted truck than pay $US2500 ($3334) a month for a bedroom in San Francisco — is the fact that that these employees are struggling to get by. Living in a tent because it costs too much to go home is not normal for industry. It’s just plain awful when employers are raking in record earnings on the backs of their workers.