The financial crisis created a precariat army of RV-nomad seniors who serve as Amazon's seasonal workers

The "Camperforce" is a 2000+ strong army of retirees in RVs, a choice most were forced into when the value of their homes and pensions was wiped out in the 2008 crisis -- as many of them neared literal starvation and destitution, they began to travel from Amazon warehouse to Amazon warehouse, serving as a seasonal workforce of elderly, frail but diligent workers who put their bodies in harm's way to pack our Christmas supplies.

Amazon has nurtured and recruited the Camperforce with stretching classes, recruiters at RV parks, swag, and advice on which Amazon products to order to help with the on-the-job injuries caused by walking 15+ miles a day in your seventies or eighties.

The Camperforce is by all accounts a very reliable and useful workforce, driven by a mix of work-ethic and desperation (one couple followed in the profile was down to $8 and three cans of vegetables when they signed up, despite a long career as a McDonald's exec).


Many of the workers who joined Camper­Force were around traditional retirement age, in their sixties or even seventies. They were glad to have a job, even if it involved walking as many as 15 miles a day on the concrete floor of a warehouse. From a hiring perspective, the RVers were a dream labor force. They showed up on demand and dispersed just before Christmas in what the company cheerfully called a “taillight parade.” They asked for little in the way of benefits or protections. And though warehouse jobs were physically taxing—not an obvious fit for older bodies—recruiters came to see Camper­Force workers’ maturity as an asset. These were diligent, responsible employees. Their attendance rates were excellent.

“We’ve had folks in their eighties who do a phenomenal job for us,” noted Kelly Calmes, a Camper­Force representative, in one online recruiting seminar. He elaborated: “You guys have put in a lifetime of work. You understand what work is.”

In a company presentation, one slide read, “Jeff Bezos has predicted that, by the year 2020, one out of every four workampers in the United States will have worked for Amazon.”

Camper­Force hired aggressively. Representatives went on scouting missions in more than a dozen states, setting up recruiting tables at popular RV destinations like Yellowstone National Park and the motor home mecca of Quartzsite, Arizona, where tens of thousands of RVers camp in the desert each winter. They wore Camper­Force T-shirts and handed out “Now Hiring” flyers, along with swag bearing the smiling RV logo—pads of sticky notes, beer koozies, handheld fans. They created a $50 referral bonus—later increased to $125—for existing Camper­Force workers who convinced friends to join them. In a company presentation, one slide read, “Jeff Bezos has predicted that, by the year 2020, one out of every four workampers in the United States will have worked for Amazon.”

MEET THE CAMPERFORCE, AMAZON'S NOMADIC RETIREE ARMY

[Jessica Bruder/Wired]


(Image: Cole Barash/Wired)

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