Many Workers at 'World-Changing' Tech Companies Might as Well Work at Wal-Mart

Tesla employees work on a Model S cars in the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., Thursday, May 14, 2015.

Tesla employees work on a Model S cars in the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., Thursday, May 14, 2015. Jeff Chiu/AP

The tech industry’s nontech workforce has a very different experience than Silicon Valley's software engineers.

“I’ve seen people pass out, hit the floor like a pancake and smash their face open,” a worker at Tesla’s “factory of the future” told the Guardian in a report published this week. “They just send us to work around him while he’s still lying on the floor.”

The Guardian report described long hours and intense pressure to meet CEO Elon Musk’s production goals–even if that means enduring or ignoring injuries. Since 2014, according to the report, hundreds of ambulances have been called to the factory to treat workers.

This portrayal doesn’t quite jive with Musk’s world-changing vision. And Tesla isn’t only Silicon Valley company facing this type of irony.

Technology companies’ reputations as employers often stem from how they treat highly paid engineers, but many also employ thousands of blue collar workers. Tech workers at these companies receive high pay, elaborate perks and progressive workplace policies, but blue collar workers for the same companies often work in circumstances that look much less innovative.

Tech Industry’s Nontech Workforce

At Facebook, a team of 7,000 human moderators police content by reviewing the worst humanity has to offer. At Amazon, more than 90,000 full-time employees in 70 warehouses pick and pack orders for delivery (a workforce that more than doubles with temporary workers during busy seasons). Uber’s algorithms direct massive armies of human drivers, and Tesla employs about 10,000 workers in its car manufacturing plant in Fremont, California.

The humans who moderate content have jobs that involve watching violence and child pornography. They report psychological damage, including a condition similar to PTSD (two former Microsoft content moderators recently sued the company for not providing psychological support), and often are hired as contractors rather than employees.

Buzzfeed News report last year found working conditions at Blue Apron, a tech company that makes meal kits, led to high stress and even violence as the company rushed to scale operations.

Horror stories occasionally emerge from Amazon warehouses, where workers walk up to 12 miles in a shift and must meet minimum productivity requirements. The company also runs a platform called Mechanical Turk on which workers complete small, repetitive tasks for cents, which has inspired a new category of ethical questions.

Uber drivers, who are not employees of the company, report misleading promises and unpredictable wages.

Technology Companies Should Start at Home

These are certainly not the worst jobs in the world. Amazon warehouse workers, for instance, have jobs not unlike those at more traditional logistics companies and at the warehouses of older retailers, like Wal-Mart. According to thousands of salaries reported to the jobs site Indeed.com, Amazon’s warehouse workers make on average about $12 per hour, which differs based on location. Wal-Mart recently said it was raising its hourly pay floor to $10, and that its average workers make $10 (part-time) and $13 (full-time) per hour.

Outside of new technology companies, you’ll also find plenty of health and safety violations muchmuchmuch worse than those at Tesla factories and Blue Apron assembly plants, and tech is not alone in using contractors instead of employees wherever possible. Even Facebook content work, which involves spotting beheadings and child pornography, doesn’t seem so bad compared to global sweat shop conditions.

But unlike companies in most other industries, tech has positioned itself as a visionary, progressive driver of positive world change. Mark Zuckerberg recently released a manifesto describing how Facebook can improve everything from global safety to civic engagement. Elon Musk seems to have chosen his company ideas from a list of world problems, and a Jeff Bezos quote on an Amazon recruitment page professes “success is measured against the possible, not the probable.” Why not take this big thinking to the problem of improving jobs for their own hourly workers?

Many technology companies have already applied their progressive thinking to their white collar jobs. Facebook has been a pioneer of family-friendly policies, and Google has considered the health of its white collar workforce down to the size of its cafeteria plates.

Sure, these considerations are driven by competition for hiring and retaining software engineers, but there are also financial advantages to investing in blue collar workers. A recent study by researchers at Dartmouth College and the University of Wisconsin, for instance, found experienced workers at warehouses with the type of storage system Amazon uses were significantly faster than less-experienced workers.

When it comes to physical or labor-intensive work, Silicon Valley tends to tout its technology. Tesla has its automation-heavy “factory of the future,” Uber invests in automated vehicles, Facebook is building algorithms that can police its content without human moderators, and Amazon is building machines that pack boxes and drones that deliver them. These technologies have the potential to improve jobs—but they also promise to eliminate them altogether.

But for the foreseeable future, blue collar workers will have a role in powering even the most futuristic technology companies. Companies like GM and Wal-Mart helped establish standard working conditions for workers in their respective industries, and the technology companies disrupting those industries today will help establish working conditions for the future.

For better or for worse.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.