Two Christmases ago, Lee and I redefined ourselves as: “Santa’s Elves.” For six weeks prior to Christmas, we joined other Workampers in the temporary workforce for amazon.com at the Coffeyville Fulfillment Center. Located in the southeast corner of Kansas, only 75 miles north of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Coffeyville is not particularly a destination for RVers. A friendly, but economically struggling town of about 10,000, Coffeyville’s bottom-line draw was good wages plus a paid site and hookups. That particular season, amazon.com, through their partnership with Express Professionals, hired approximately 330 temporary associates, most of them Workampers from diverse backgrounds and geographic locations.
In the typical style of RVers, Workampers established a community at Walter Johnson City Park in Coffeyville. We joined a smaller contingent at a private park around the corner. Yet another group lived at Elk City State Park, closer to Independence. Although the Workampers exchanged information and ideas over the Workamper News forum, 11-hour work days precluded the usual socialization among RVers.
Lee and I started in early November and completed our contract on December 22. Ten and eleven-hour shifts, both day and night, ran Sunday-Wednesday and Wednesday-Saturday. We drew the donut shift in the shipping department, which meant our work days were Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Still, we had to set our alarm for 3:30 a.m. in order to dress, eat breakfast, and walk Spot prior to clocking in at the facility at 5:30.. Except for two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch time (off the clock), we were on our feet for the entire shift.
Other jobs included receiving products, stowing them in bins, and then picking the items for orders. The “picked” items were scanned by a hand-held computer and placed in a plastic tote that rumbled down a conveyor to the shipping department. Along with dozens of other workers, we stood behind computers and lifted the totes off the conveyor, scanned items, and fitted them into a box or padded packaging. Printers spit out a packing slip that we added before placing boxes back on the conveyor. Another group of workers, called the slam line, put in fillers and sent the packages through a taping and labeling machine. On select days, I was pulled from shipping to work in gift wrap—a job that some say sounds like fun. For me, it was stressful—finding the right-sized box, cutting the correct length of paper, turning the corners down just so. I preferred my shipping line.
Starting as an online bookstore in the early 1990s, amazon.com steadily branched into retail sales of music CDs, videotapes and DVDs, software, electronics, and other items from tools to toys and apparel to sporting goods, and even gourmet food. Almost any product a consumer desires is available at amazon.com. The company now ships from 16 locations in the United States, including their largest center at Coffeyville. Other centers across the nation, such as facilities in Campbellsville, Kentucky, and Fernley, Nevada, have come on board, hiring Workampers for the Christmas rush.
Our jobs on the one-item shipping line were fast-paced, leaving no time to read the packing slips. Yet, I often wondered why a person ordered a single bottle of Tylenol. One day, I prepared dozens of pairs of size-small purple tights, one pair to each shipment. The thought of a dance troupe crossed my mind. But I began to notice the receivers’ addresses from all across the country. I still ponder why so many people on a single day ordered purple tights.
Although some Workampers admitted that jobs at amazon.com were more strenuous than they had expected, many have returned in successive seasons. Most RVers who applied for the jobs knew that Kansas turns cold in the wintertime. However, a few eight-degree mornings with packed snow on the streets and highways shocked the psyche of full-timers who have the option to move to warmer climates before the first snowflake falls.
We are glad we had the opportunity to act as Santa’s elves for a season. Neither of us had ever worked in a factory setting. The experience was eye-opening, and the friends we made are fantastic. But Coffeyville, Kansas, Campbellsville, Kentucky, and Fernley, Nevada are wintry in December. I think one time of playing Santa’s helpers is enough. Brrrr…..
Workampers at the Campbellsville, Kentucky facility have received international attention in 2010. Following several national news stories, including coverage on the ABC Evening News, Joon Park, News Producer for the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) in South Korea contacted Workamper News regarding Workampers at the amazon.com facility. Park planned to have a camera crew on location at Campbellsville December 15-17, 2010. She stated that the seven minute feature program on Korean television would reach five million people around the world.
Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) is South Korea’s leading public services broadcaster and the most influential media organization in the country. KBS operates three television, seven radio and four DMB channels; this feature will be broadcasted on the national channel.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com