GARNER, N.C. — We all know the excitement of placing an online order. In the past 18 months, getting a box on the doorstep has offered convienance on another level.
The thrill of anticipation goes into overdrive on Amazon Prime Day when the nation’s largest online retailer offers some very deep discounts.
Behind every box and envelope are men and women, packing up wants and needs. An Amazon spokesperson said while the company may cut prices, it's not cutting corners when it comes to the health and wellness of the people working to get these deals to customers.
Within the last month, as Governor Roy Cooper relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, the mega online retailer allowed TV cameras into the Garner Fulfillment Center for the first tour since the start of the pandemic. The Garner plant opened in August 2020. Until now, outsiders haven’t been able to go inside.
The company has a program called Working Well, and the main objective is to protect employees from workplace injuries. By protecting workers, the company is protecting itself and its customers.
The distribution center is 640,000 square feet of machines and manpower. As senior operations manager, Thomas Denny climbs up the stairs of the four-story labyrinth all the time. Denny broke down how the operation works.
"We will go through the processes of how we fulfill our customer orders," Denny said. “Once we come out, we are gonna go to our right to station 3170. This is how we get our inventory into our bins.”
Rows of people toil at each work station throughout the massive site in central North Carolina. Bonnie Keen is one of them you can find at any time. Keen said she started in October of last year. As part of her daily routine, she incorporates exercises from the working well program into her shift. “
I love it. I do because that way you can warm up, and go ahead and get situated for your job,” Keen said.
During her warm-up, she rolled her wrists in a circular motion and lunged her legs forward, one after the other. The company debuted the program in 2019. In the middle of the current pandemic, workers were expected to keep up with increased demand. For example, online orders shot up nationwide at the height of lockdown. The program seems to be successful at the Garner center.
“Say I clock out at lunch. When I clock back in, you’re doing the same exercise but just different ones. I do that twice a day," Keen said.
There are multiple components to the Working Well initiative. Keen is a mother of six who said she likes to feel fresh on the job. One specific area of the wellness strategy she practiced often is a 'Mind and Body Moment'. A screen prompted her with a guided tutorial that targets muscle and mental fatigue by coaching a person through breathing techniques and various movements.
“It’s just relaxing. I love what I do. This way it gives you a little time to warm up to get into the groove of it," Keen said.
Officials say the goal of the program is to reduce muscular sprains and strains. The rollout came as the giant faced continuing scrutiny for how it treats employees on the floor. The relentless nature of the fulfillment line often forces workers to handle new orders almost every 30 seconds.
There are also health and safety huddles offered as part of the program.
In these sessions, crew members physically group to learn the best ways to use their bodies. The innovative robotic technology handles thousands of details a day as synthetic arms scan and stamps each package. However, people on the ground level do the heavy lifting, a task that still requires human hands.
The Garner center is the sixth fulfillment operation in North Carolina. The facility employs more than 3,000 full-time associates. On Sunday, a spokesperson confirmed the overall long-term goal is cutting workplace injuries in half by 2025.