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Credit: Erica Pandey/Axios

During the pandemic, Amazon's tech-infused network of warehouses and planes and trucks worked pretty much flawlessly. But its system of managing workers broke down, a nine-month New York Times investigation found.

Why it matters: The convenience of Amazon comes with a cost — the company churns through human workers as rapidly as it churns through customer orders.

By the numbers:

  • Amazon made the equivalent of three years worth of profits in 2020 and hired around 350,000 new warehouse and delivery workers — including servers, actors, and teachers who had lost their jobs — to keep up with pandemic demand.
  • But turnover was very high, at around 150% a year. To put that in context, it means replacing the entire hourly workforce in the equivalent of every eight months, the Times notes.

What's happening: Amazon evaluates workers like machines, with automated systems that track productivity, benefits, overtime assignments, firings and more.

  • But those systems often broke down when Amazon workers — just like everyone else — dealt with sickness, child care issues or other extenuating circumstances.

Alberto Castillo, a worker at Amazon's Staten Island fulfillment center, was one of the first to test positive for COVID-19 and fell very ill. The company provides robust benefits for fulfillment workers, but the disability payments stopped without warning and Castillo's wife had difficulty getting in touch with someone who could fix the issue.

Dan Cavagnaro, another employee at the same warehouse, was mistakenly fired by a machine while trying to return from leave in July. He had trouble reaching anyone who could help, he told the Times.

What's next: Amazon's HR systems haven't kept up with its explosive growth, former company executives told the Times, and workers are burnt out and suffering as a result.

  • In his most recent shareholder letter, founder Jeff Bezos even acknowledged that there's work to be done. "We need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success," he wrote.

Go deeper: The full Times story is worthy of your time.

Go deeper

Sep 13, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

Biden's vaccine rule to affect 1.4 million private workers statewide

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

About 1.4 million Minnesota workers at private businesses would fall under President Biden's new vaccination mandate.

Driving the news: Biden announced on Thursday that private employers with 100 or more workers would need to require their workers to be vaccinated, or test them once a week.

Separately, Biden and Gov. Tim Walz issued orders requiring many federal and state workers to get vaccinated.

1 hour ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.