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Roughly 200,000 people work in over 100 of Amazon’s North American fulfillment centers continent-wide. But that’s not enough. The company is hoping to add to the ranks considerably through a new initiative, VentureBeat has learned. Fulfillment Center Ready — abbreviated FC Ready — has been described as an “Uber-like” program intended to fill shift slots to ensure that internal shipping and processing quotas are met.

Both new and salaried Amazon workers will be eligible for FC Ready when it rolls out to select facilities in the coming weeks, including Amazon’s 855,000-square-foot Staten Island fulfillment center. They will be able to sign up for night or day shift work through a web portal that will spotlight availability and track their accumulated hours. Employees will have to complete both safety and knowledge-based training for specific jobs (like picking, packing, and shipping customer orders) onsite.

FC Ready employees will receive the same base pay as full-time associates, an Amazon spokesperson told VentureBeat. (At the Staten Island center, that works out to between $17.50 to $23 an hour.) Additionally, they’ll be eligible for benefits including health, vision, dental, 401k with 50% match, up to 20 weeks of paid parental leave, and tuition reinvestment. Those who choose to work part-time will receive a less-comprehensive benefits package.

Amazon began piloting FC Ready at fulfillment centers in Whitestown, Indiana and Sterling, Virginia as early as August 2018, according to participating employees’ LinkedIn profiles. Its impending launch follows on the heels of “shift swap,” which allows full-time Amazon fulfillment center employees to swap shifts with other workers as an alternative to taking time off.

A shift toward contract workers

Amazon’s recommitment to full-time hiring comes as the company invests in contractor platforms like Amazon Flex, which compensates vetted workers for delivering AmazonFresh, Prime Now, and Whole Foods orders to customers’ doorsteps with their personal vehicles. A separate Amazon program — Delivery Service Partners — aims to encourage entrepreneurs to run local delivery fleets of up to 40 vans driven by subcontractors.

Amazon’s increasing reliance on gig workers could be said to align with national workforce trends. According to a recent Gallup poll, roughly 57 million people in the U.S. — 29% of the country’s workers — have an alternative work arrangement as their primary job, and by 2020, some firms are forecasting that over 40% of U.S. workers will opt for contract work instead of full-time jobs.

Harsh working conditions

In March, Rashad Long, a former Staten Island fulfillment center worker who was driving local unionization efforts, said he would pursue legal recourse following his termination in February. Amazon claims Long committed a fireable safety violation, but in a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board earlier this year (which has since been dropped), Long argued his supervisors were punishing him for speaking out about poor working conditions.

In reports spanning nearly a decade, Amazon’s warehouse workers have exposed indignities like suffocatingly high temperatures and steep penalties for failing to meet certain production goals. In an effort to allay critics both internal and external, Amazon last year raised the minimum wage to $15 for full-time, part-time, and temporary seasonal workers hired through agencies, and recommitted to “providing a safe and positive workplace.”

An Amazon spokesperson told VentureBeat in a statement that the safety of Amazon’s employees is the company’s “top priority,” noting that it invested $52 million in 2012 to retrofit existing fulfillment centers with climate control and that all new centers are built with climate control and HVAC systems in all buildings. The spokesperson added that Amazon provides support to employees who aren’t “performing to the levels expected” with dedicated coaching.

“Ensuring the safety of these associates is our number one priority. Operational meetings, new hire orientation, process training and new process development begin with safety and have safety metrics and audits integrated within each program,” said the spokesperson. “Training is constant, both in making sure employees know how best to work with the technology in the facility and also how to prevent injuries … We encourage anyone to compare our compensation, benefits, and safe workplace to other retailers.”

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