Tech | September 25, 2017 5:00 am

Amazon’s Secret Weapon: Nomadic Workers Living in RVs

Tech giant offers much-needed work, but the job is physically demanding and injuries are common.

Quartzsite, Arizona where many Amazon RV workers go in between month-long working stints.
In a scene repeated in many of the RV parks in Quartzsite, Arizona, snowbirds from all over the world flock to the tiny desert town during the winter, shopping and exploring the desert by day, and gathering around the campfires by night January 24, 2011. (Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Back in the mid-2000s, Amazon fell short when trying to hire temporary workers during the peak months of online shopping leading up to Christmas. So one staff member had the idea of inviting itinerant workers who live in RVs to work at one of the tech company’s distribution centers in Kansas. The first year went well—the RV workers were dedicated, on-time, mature, and responsible—so Amazon expanded the program, called CamperForce. Since then, the company has recruited in all the popular RV camping spots and warehouses in other cities have made use of the CamperForce program. Amazon has even started offering a $125 referral bonus. As of 2014, Amazon had employed some 2,000 CamperForce workers, and the program has only continued to grow, Wired reports.

One of the CamperForce veterans is Chuck Stout, who worked for the McDonalds franchise for 20 years, starting as a “garbage boy” and working his way up to field consultant. When the 9/11 attacks occurred in 2001, he was 57 and running his own McDonalds in Columbia, Pennsylvania. Stout said he spent three days delivering Egg McMuffins, hash browns, and coffee to workers at Ground Zero, which he says is “the most worthwhile thing” he’s ever done.

Stout retired in 2002 and lost his wife of 25 years to cancer soon after. So at 60 years old, Wired writes, Stout was starting over. After the financial crisis wiped out his life savings and cratered the tour company he and his second wife had started, the couple sold everything else they owned, bought an RV for $500 from Barb’s brother, and started driving.

Eventually the struggling pair joined CamperForce after hearing about it from Workers on Wheels, a job-placement platform for RVers, paid for by, not surprisingly, Amazon.

But the work Amazon expects its CamperForce employees to do is physically challenging, especially since many of the workers are near or at retirement age. Many CamperForce workers end up suffering from job-related ailments, and the winter weather does not help, Wired writes. When the author of the story, Jessica Bruder, tried being a CamperForce member herself, she only made it through one week.