12 Things We Learned at Our First Amazon Camperforce

Disclaimer: “We are not spokespersons or officially affiliated with Amazon in any way. This account is of our personal experience as seasonal employees in the Campbellsville, KY distribution center in 2018.  Subject information is to change.”

Introduction

We definitely found the Amazon motto above to be true! If you haven’t read Part 1, “Our First Workamper Job Amazon Camperforce”, you can check that out here: our-first-workamper-job-amazon-camperforce/. If you are interested in applying for Amazon Camperforce, and want more info, here we go:

  • I first learned about Amazon Camperforce through Workamper News. They usually host several webinars over the summer that will answer some of the questions not on the Camperforce website (see “Amendments” below).  They have a free tier, at www.workamper.com then “Join”.
  • I followed the FaceBook page, “Amazon Camperforce Community” https://www.facebook.com/groups/866946020029455/ for a year before finally applying. This is an “unofficial” page of Camperforce employees discussing everything from shoes to benefits. It’s especially helpful as you go through the application process, since some of the emails were confusing last season. NOTE: Some of the Amazon HR & Camperforce staff do lurk here. Don’t say anything stupid! On the flip side, I’ve had an HR rep find me on the floor during Camperforce to answer a question I had posted the night before!

1. Location, location, location

The 2018 locations were all in Kentucky: Hebron, Shepherdsville, Murfreesboro and Lexington with the exception of Whitetown, IN.  This changes from season to season & some locations fill faster than others.

If none of these cities meet your needs, consider applying as a seasonal employee at the numerous other Fulfillment Centers around the country, and paying for your own RV spot (a possible future option for us, since there are two Fulfillment Centers near Grandbaby).

2. Communication

ALL communication for us came through email. Make a habit of checking your spam box and add “Recruiting Ops”, “Camperforce”, “Kelly Calmes” to your address book. (The “Recruiting Ops” emails from the “home office” in Seattle which may lag behind the Camperforce emails and can be confusing. Camperforce communications are primary).

After you arrive, pay stubs, notices of available VET (voluntary extra time) or cancelled MET (mandatory extra time) come via email or text (or by logging into the “hub”).

We applied in February. The majority of questions on the FB forum (listed above) are about the timeline between applying and your start date. It’s not unusual to not hear anything for months after your initial contract has been accepted. When things start happening, they start happening fast (drug test, background check, start date). I’ve attached a summary of our timeline below–but again, it varies from year to year.

3. It’s all about the SHOES

Do NOT wait until your start date to buy new shoes. It’s a good idea to break them in first. You don’t want to be breaking in shoes, or worse yet, find out they are not comfortable while standing 10 hours a day on concrete. There are many great suggestions in the FB Community including compression socks, moleskin, inserts and rotating shoes. You need to find what is right for you.

I highly recommend visiting a running store (they also cater to walkers). I’ve been a Fleet Feet Running Store customer for 10+ years, since my marathon running days. I’ve gone in periodically to be remeasured & get recommendations for new models (I usually wear Brooks or New Balance because of my wide forefoot). However, this year I got to experience their free digital scan which measures:

  • Pronation (none)
  • Arch height (low but not enough to require a stability shoe),
  • Width (YES!),
  • Size (up from 8.5 to 8.8)
  • Recommended size for long-distance walking (they now recommend ONE SIZE UP from a dress shoe to a running/walking shoe instead of 1/2 size, so a 9 1/2 to a 10!).

My first pair of shoes (Brooks) were very comfortable as I trained up to 10 miles before arriving (see “Training” below). I purchased a second pair (New Balance) with the intention of rotating both pairs, however the sales rep recommended going up another 1/2 size in this model. They looked HUGE! However, my first pair resulted in a corn after my first full week at Camperforce, so I ended up relying on the wider, larger pair for the rest of the season, along with toe socks as a precaution (Amazon link to Iniji toe socks).

4. Adjusting your sleep schedule

You usually don’t know until 3-4 days before orientation if you are night shift of day shift, but there are still a few things you can do.

  • We haven’t needed an alarm clock for the last 4 years, but purchased one for Camperforce (Campbellsville is right on the border of a time zone, so you don’t want to risk your phone changing time zones & making you late for work. Also, I didn’t want to risk a stray text interrupting our sleep so the phone stayed up on the dash).
  • Know how many hours of sleep you need–don’t assume it’s the suggested eight. I average 8 1/2, if left to sleep in. My husband needs 9. I found the FitBit sleep tracker interesting while my husband used the Sleep app (seen above). You set a goal time & it wakes you up based on your sleep cycle.  It really works–he went from a grumpy bear to someone you could almost hold a conversation with using this app.
  • We got day shift, which meant we had to be at work by 6:00 am! I started setting an alarm to get up 30 min earlier each morning.
  • Start going to bed earlier based on how many hours you want. This was hard for my husband. It may require skipping naps and setting up a bedtime routine to let your body know it’s time to go to bed.
  • Practice a bed time routine to help you unwind–lights turned down to tell your body it’s time for sleep, brush teeth, change into jammies. Televisions & tablets are proven to be bad before bedtime. We prefer to read at night. I set an alarm one hour before my desired bedtime to remind myself to start winding down.
  • Consider a supplement. We had success with magnesium, specifically Natural Calm. You could also try herbal tea or melatonin.
  • You may need black out shades, a sleep mask, noise machine or ear plugs, depending on your shift of where you are parked.

5. Free stuff

Since you’ve heard all the negative stuff about Amazon elsewhere, let me share the positive stuff. Free at Amazon:

  • In the break room: water (bring your own water bottle), coffee, hot chocolate, latte machine. During Peak, “snack attack” with candy/cookies/doughnuts/fruit, a Thanksgiving meal and pizza day.
  • In vending machines out on the floor: aspirin, ibuprofen, allergy medication, gloves, box cutters, safety vests, etc.
  • Amgen health care center onsite: Biofreeze, moleskin, wrist brace, etc.

6. For the Foodies

  • The Kroger in Campbellsville is very well stocked, has good prices (comparable to WalMart) and has lots of healthy alternatives including gluten-free options. It turns out I didn’t need to stock up on almond flour, coconut milk, gf pasta or flax seed before leaving St. Louis.
  • Brother’s BBQ is considered the best restaurant in town. Highly recommend.
  • Wings and Things (Campbellsville) serves gluten-free pizza! I recommend the pesto with mushroom, but skip their wine selection. (The favorite “gluten” dishes were the garlic bread & wings. Good happy hour prices.)
  • We visited Maker’s Mark for a tour and tasting and I ultimately acquired a taste for bourbon. My husband was already a fan but confirmed the local Evan Williams is a good budget bourbon.
  • They sell Yuengling in KY!
  • Heritage Chambourcin is a very good local dry red wine served at Brothers BBQ and available at Mammoth Liquors.

7. Things you don’t need to worry about

Again, we were at Campbellsville Fulfillment Center. This is some info I saw while researching Amazon Camperforce that didn’t seem applicable to our situation when we arrived. Perhaps Amazon has made changes in these areas or it applies to other facilities.

  • We walked to work, but parking didn’t seem to be a problem even during “Peak”. Campbellsville did implement a “parking program” to help with flow.
  • There is no metal detector on the way in (at least that was visible), thus no lines or waiting to get into work. As a result, quite a few people “accidentally” bring their phones back into the warehouse from the break room and this will create a delay for you with Security and Loss Prevention when you try to go back out.
  • There are three break rooms. Yes, if you are working in E4 it’s a long walk back to your locker, but in that situation we took our breaks at the back break room or the smaller break room in the middle. No coffee or vending machines in the middle, but they had water and cash-only snack machines (we kept snacks in our pockets). The back break room seemed to be a well kept secret and usually less crowded.
  • You don’t clock in and out for breaks. We didn’t see anyone policing us. When the gong rang that break was over, most people stopped at the bathroom or to refill water bottles on the way back to work. That may affect your rate, but that wasn’t a problem for us.
  • Yes, it is a full five minutes from the far corner of the warehouse to the front lunch room (we’re fast walkers–other’s clocked it at 7 minutes). However, Kentucky law requires 30 minutes for lunch—you can’t clock back in one minute earlier. You get your full lunch, no matter how far you had to walk to get there.
  • We never had a line at the metal detectors on the way out. You CAN get pulled out of line for secondary screening if the metal detector beeps, but they train you extensively on keys, belts, etc so it won’t happen. (Leave car keys in the locker. DH didn’t have a problem with a belt buckle. They also give you a clear fanny pack. We did cargo shorts with lots of pockets.)
  • Bathroom breaks are your discretion. It is 2 1/2 hours between clock in, break, lunch, break and clock out. As a picker, if you need to use the restroom, you just go. As a stower, there is something called “off task” that you need to take into consideration, but it’s still possible to go in between breaks!

8. Mentally prepare yourself not to get your way

I’m sure this will be unpopular.  Here it goes.  Many workampers are able to retire because they were very successful in their previous career. You may have had seniority, were in management or ran your own business. That is no longer true as a workamper. As mentioned before, most workamper jobs are basically entry-level, temp jobs (& often minimum wage, though not with Amazon). You may not get the location, shift, job or campground you were hoping for. Amazon also has very specific training and procedures for all positions. The most frustrated Camperforce were the one’s that tried to ask “Why?” or recommended ways to improve the system. Amazon has been doing this for a long time.  You are not the first to make these recommendations and won’t be the last. They don’t usually take the time to explain why. Just roll with it. It’s only temporary. And you are temporary. Overall, there seemed to be a logic behind almost everything, even though it didn’t seem so at first. At least it makes for lively conversation over break.

9. Getting in shape. Our suggested training program

Some people may be able to show up on the first day without any preparation and be fine, but why risk it? Also, if you are carrying some extra weight to start with, that you are hoping to lose while you’re here, it will just add to your initial joint discomfort. I recommend using the summer before Camperforce to start training.

You WILL be sore–feet, back and shoulders. Stowing is basically 1000 toe touches and shoulder presses a day. Picking is the equivalent of doing a half marathon daily. NOTHING prepares you for standing on concrete 10 hours a day. We’re both in decent shape. My husband spent his career as an aircraft mechanic on his feet all-day on concrete, in an unconditioned hangar, sometimes working out on a hot ramp. I’ve run (very slow) marathons. We’ve ridden bicycle centuries and half centuries together. We were STILL a whole new kind of sore for the first couple of weeks.

I used a half marathon program to prep for the daily walking of Pick–then we got Stow. Next year, I’ll focus on a full-body workout including:

  • Strength training (weights or body resistance. I use the TRX and the book, Men’s Health Your Body is Barbell by BJ Gaddour)
  • Flexibility (yoga DVD’s. My favorite is anything by Rodney Yee.)
  • Endurance (walking)
  • Hand & forearm strength (squeeze a tennis ball while watching TV). It’s surprising how sore your wrists can get from carrying around a scanner for 10 hours. They do recommend switching hands periodically to avoid this.

You don’t have to do all this if you want to do Camperforce. We’re nerds and like to over prepare. We also don’t like being sore, popping ibuprofen and soaking our feet every night.

10. Pay attention to the Safety Tips and Stretches at the Start Up meetings

“Pull out bins while keeping your wrists neutral. Put down your scanner. Pick up things with scooping hand not fingers”. This is all seems silly during training but they aren’t kidding. They know all the injuries that can result from working in a Fulfillment Center.

Apparently, in the past, there was a half day of Safety Training.  People complained it was boring, especially returning Camperforce.  Well, safety is boring!  But it’s important.  This year they cancelled the 1/2 day of Safety Training and instead, incorporated it other places.  I vote they bring it back.

For us, we became aware of the wrist/hand/thumb pain from the repetitive motion of stowing after we had been there a couple weeks. Our feet and back were less sore by the day, but our hands started “falling asleep” (pins & needles) at night and it was waking us up. A fellow Camperforce pointed out this is the beginning of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. We found extra stretches (here are our favorites, YouTube, Ask Dr Jo, 5 Best Carpal Tunnel Stretches), an Amcare brace, Biofreeze, and ibuprofen helped. It also can’t hurt to take glucosamine starting 30 days before orientation and Zyflamed while you are there. We had to dial back our rate (we were doing more than the required 85% anyway). Ultimately, we switched to “Pick” and it was less of an issue. Our discomfort also went away as soon as the job was over.

11. A little extra insurance–My favorite supplements & healthy snacks

  • Stock up on your anti-inflammatory of choice. Even though it is available for free in the vending machines, I prefer gel caps and my husband has allergy type reactions to ibuprofen and aspirin, so he carried acetaminophen.
  • Biofreeze. Liquid gold. Especially good for those that don’t like to take anti-inflammatories. I love this stuff. I remember when I could only get it from my chiropractor. Now you can get it at WalMart. And yes, the generic version works just as well. There are free packets are available from Amgen, that we carried in our pockets.  At home we preferred fought over the roll-on. (You do NOT want to accidentally touch your eyes after applying. It hurts. Seriously. Don’t do it.)
  • It’s unanimous in the FB group that a Magnesium Sulfate foot soak will make your initial few weeks more bearable.  Dr. Teal’s is popular and available at WalMart, but look next to hydrogen peroxide near the pharmacy. It’s cheaper and you can invest in your own essential oils like lavender.
  • Emergen-C & Zicam on hand, in case you feel a cold coming on.
  • Glucosamine for your joints. It works. I’ve successfully used it for a mild foot strain from a marathon and my husband successfully used it to treat a mild shoulder strain. You should start it 30 days before your orientation because it needs to build up in your system.
  • Zyflamend is an herbal alternative for inflammation.  (Amazon link)
  • When my energy is low, I crave sugar—a Mountain Dew and Snickers sound really good. To avoid that, we focus on healthy snacks like nuts, bars (date or granola), fruit, cheese, jerky and some emergency energy snacks (gummies or caramels). When we switched to pick, I ran low on energy a few times (counting suddenly becomes very hard and I was sure I was dyslexic!). It turns out I just needed to drink more water to help with the brain farts that tend to hit right before lunch or break. Electrolyte tablets also help. I prefer Nuun)

12. Drive the RV more

The problem with sitting in one place for three months is the clutter than accumulates when your mobile home becomes stationary. Our dash became covered with lunch boxes, fanny packs, ponchos, box cutters, gloves, parts, tools, and everything else that gathers on that “table by the door”. We had plans to drive to the gas station once, then refill propane once, to keep our Class A exercised. We didn’t. Friends drove their Class A to the grocery store every week. They made a much faster final departure than we did! Exercise your slide. We also releveled twice.

And a bonus, #13, It rains a lot in Kentucky. Seriously. It rains A LOT!

Finally, if you decide to join us next year, don’t forget to give me as a reference (Bonnie Cunningham)!

 

More info:

Amazon Camperforce Informative YouTube video:  https://youtu.be/BI9U7axQbco

Camper Chronicles blog:  https://camperchronicles.com/2017/11/04/first-time-at-amazon-day-0-day-3/

2012-2016 Interstellar Orchard: https://interstellarorchard.com/2012/06/26/about-amazons-camperforce/

Technomadia blog:  https://www.technomadia.com/2010/02/workamping-at-amazon-com-was-it-worth-it/

RV Life article:  http://rvlife.com/camperforce-at-amazon/

Addendum

Our Camperforce Timeline:

• 2/15 Email from Recruiting Ops, “Thank you for interest. Your application is being reviewed.”

• 2/18 Email from Kelly Calmes, “Welcome to the Amazon CamperForce Program! You did not indicate which of our facilities you would like to work at this season.”

• 3/1 Email from Kelly, Campbellsville Conditional job offer with “Job Descriptions and Work Expectations”, “Preliminary Offer Letter”, “Acknowledgement Form” (MUST BE RETURNED), and a link to a required YouTube video (link).

• 3/2 Email from Kelly, “We’ve received your Acknowledgement Form” so we’ve attached a campground list (which states “We suggest you make the reservation as soon as possible after you have completed the initial hiring process…giv{e} them the availibility date you provided Amazon with…”. Advise Camperforce where you made a reservation.

• 5/7 Email from Camperforce, Announced Peak Returns & Estimated Operating Schedule of each location (opportunity to switch locations based on this information)

(Confusing because it was received on the same date as above):

• 5/7 Email from Recruiting Ops, Contingent job offer: “Your offer is waiting. To accept this offer…” log into Job Page & give permission for background check (Fair Credit Reporting Act Disclosure)

• 5/8 email from Recruiting Ops, “Thank you for completing your information!”

• 6/19 Email from Kelly, Second Conditional Job Offer with updated Preliminary Offer Letter, adding “RV Use Required” and some other clarifications.

• 7/3 Email from Kelly, Campbellsville anticipated start date & documents required on Day One. Reminder about background checks, campground, availibility dates, traveling partner, etc

• 8/2 Email from Kelly requesting a zip code for the drug test and “planning to be in one place until the test in completed.”

• 8/3 Email from Kelly with first state date at SDF1 (same reminders as above)

• 8/6 Quest drug screen confirmation form with location GOOD FOR 3 DAYS. (Historically, drug screenings are done 2-3 months prior to start date)

8/7 Did drug test in Longmont, CO while visiting family

• 8/9 Email from Recruiting Ops, that background check and drug screen are complete.

• 8/17 Email from Recruiting Ops that “the next step will be to schedule your start date”. (Historically, you will be notified of your start date 2-3 weeks prior to your availability date)

• 9/9 Email from Kelly “Your start date has been finalized.” (We replied same day).

• 9/13 Email from Kelly general update

• 9/19 (Job page changed from Start Date Pending to Start Date Scheduled)

• Arrive at campground 2 days in advance (we arrived a week early & paid the “Amazon rate” of $20/night for the extra 5 days)

• Required to log into “MyDocs” & complete TONS of paperwork.

• 10/1 Start date: 1/2 day of HR & tours

• Day 2 Half day of training in your position

• Day 3 Half day of work with Trainers nearby for questions (work hardening)

• Day 4 Half day of work (work hardening)

• Two days off then start normal work schedule

Notes from the Workamper News Webinar with Kelly Calmes

  • No 1099 for campsite because it’s “complimentary”
  • 95% of items weigh 5 lbs or less
  • 4 week learning curve
  • Discussed state taxes
  • This year extending season for returns (Jan – Mar at certain facilities)
  • Bathroom breaks as needed (camperforce doesn’t need to make “rate” but I usually have time at each break & lunch)
  • Cobra is available if you work 90 days
  • Campbellsville & Murfreesboro fill up quickly (closed by this webinar)
  • Inbound & outbound start times are staggered 30 min (so if you want to walk or drive in together—state the same job preferences on the application. Couples are typically assigned the same job/manager for this reason, unless specified otherwise.)

4 comments

  1. […] There are changes at Amazon Camperforce every year, including locations, start dates, shifts available, and job assignments. The unofficial slogan is “Expect the unexpected.” This is a short update on our 2019 season in Campbellsville, KY. For more info, go back to “Our First Workamper Job, Amazon Camperforce” and “12 Things We Learned at Our First Amazon Camperforce“. […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s