John Oliver Shines a Light About the Downsides of Warehouse Work


Being an employment lawyer for quite awhile, I’ve gotten to know pretty much every large industry in California.

One big business in California is warehouse work. A lot of work is done moving product from the port in Long Beach to the warehouses in the Inland Empire, and then shipping out the product throughout the region or country.

These days, however, there’s another type of warehouse work that is done. Ecommerce warehouse work is much different than regular warehouse work. If you don’t know John Oliver, he has a weekly commentary comedy show on HBO that goes over the week’s news.

This last Sunday he did warehouses. He would have called it fulfillment centers, but a lot fewer people know what that means than what a warehouse is.

These jobs pay pretty well. They give steady hours. People are happy to have them. Most people really need the money these jobs generate. As a result, and I see it all the time, people are afraid of losing these jobs. They’re afraid of doing anything that would risk their job. I think that’s fine, especially in the short term.

But for anyone who thinks this work is a good career choice, there’s a great new episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver you should watch. He shares the in-depth portion of his Sunday show on YouTube. Even if you have no interest, it’s still an entertaining show.

The difference between a regular warehouse and a fulfillment center, which John explains so well, is Amazon. A regular warehouse shipping stuff to other businesses or to different parts of the same business doesn’t compete with Amazon. But any ecommerce business competes with Amazon and has to deal with Amazon Prime.

Amazon standardized 2 day delivery, and now they’re doing 1 day delivery. As a result, their workers have to work very, very hard. Rather than describe it, just watch the show. He does a far better job than I could ever do.

One thing I’d like to say that he doesn’t focus on is what happens when you get injured working at a fulfillment center. Aside from the injury itself (here’s a great recent article on injury at Amazon by Mother Jones), at some companies management will write you up just for getting hurt. You’re working as fast as you can so you can keep your job (read: not get written up falling behind the required breakneck pace). It’s no surprise you’ll eventually get hurt. When you report the injury, you get written up for ‘not working safe’.

It’s another way to discourage you from ever reporting injury. What happens if you have a repetitive strain injury that you don’t report until it is unbearable? Well obviously it can’t be from work, since if you were injured earlier you would have reported it!

It’s a lose/lose/lose situation.

The workers’ comp games employers play are ridiculous but sadly, true.

As a note, my office doesn’t take workers’ compensation cases. Just trying to highlight how some places treat their workers and to be smart about where you place your loyalty.


About the Author
Kenneth Yoon is the founder Yoon Law, APC.