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3 Little Letters May Hide an Ulterior Motive at Amazon

Gizmodo suggests VTO is a way to keep employee counts up while trimming costs
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 15, 2018 9:19 AM CDT
In this Dec. 5, 2017, file photo, an Amazon fulfillment center is shown in a commercial development near Interstate-15 and Tropical Parkway in North Las Vegas.   (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP, File)

(Newser) – VTO: It's a part of Amazon's lexicon that might seem like an "innocuous sounding acronym." But in a lengthy piece, Gizmodo suggests it's anything but. VTO, or Voluntary Time Off, is a just that: an opportunity for Amazon's legions of warehouse workers to end their shift early when the overall workload hits a lull. They won't get paid for the cut hours, but they also won't be penalized for bowing out. Nice, right? Not according to the 13 unnamed current and former Amazon warehouse workers Bryan Menegus interviewed, who describe an environment in which workers are strong-armed into taking VTO, which they say isn't just offered during rare and unexpected moments but, in some cases, daily, and even during peak holiday season. Amazon made clear to Menegus that the system is entirely voluntary and an option that "provide[s] additional flexibility."

But workers describe being inundated with VTO alerts via text, email, and even on the scanner guns used by "pickers" who walk miles per shift to collect items for shipment. "After awhile you get tired of hearing it," says one worker, who notes VTO opportunities aren't just communicated electronically. One worker suggests that managers who can't find takers purposefully spread the "pick path" out to drive workers' all-important pick-rates down in hopes of convincing them to "finally just give up" and take the VTO. Menegus digs in deep, then comes to the crux of the piece: With all the data Amazon has, why doesn't it just trim its staff to the right level instead of foisting VTO upon its workers? His theory is that Amazon needs to maintain certain full-time position counts in order to qualify for tax breaks and other incentives handed over by local governments and uses VTO as a way to achieve that while trimming costs. Read his full piece here. (Read more Amazon stories.)

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