2014 will be my third year working in Amazon’s CamperForce. I think most people who full-time must have heard about this opportunity before, but since one of my goals is to get more people who want to go full-timing but think they can’t out on the road, I decided to do a general write up on the program based on my research and first hand experience.
Disclaimer: I am not a spokesperson or officially affiliated with Amazon in any way. This is just what I have found to be true myself from the two holiday seasons I have worked for them. It is truthful to the best of my knowledge, but any of it could change at any point with or without warning, please keep that in mind.
What It Is
There are three Amazon distribution centers in the US that hire large numbers RVers to work manual labor around the busy holiday season (and a couple others that will hire small numbers of seasoned RVers who’ve been in CamperForce at least once before to train new people in other facilities, but that’s beyond the scope of this write-up).
There are five advertised positions and at least one unadvertised one that I worked last year, all of which require standing on your feet for your entire shift. Some positions are more physically demanding than others, but from experience and every blog and first hand account I’ve read let me say now that it is hard work. The pay is better than any other work camping gig out there that I’ve heard of, except perhaps the sugar beet harvest in the far northern reaches of the country, and there is good reason for this. Here are the position descriptions, as pulled from workamper.com’s page for Amazon and found true from what I’ve seen:
Receiving: (Inbound) As part of our receiving team, you will be receiving and checking inventory from our suppliers. You will need to be able to lift, bend, stoop and squat frequently.
Stowing: (Inbound)You will walk 2-4 miles a day, and will lift, bend, stoop and squat frequently. Ability to read a hand-held scanner and climbing stairs up to 30% of the time is necessary. Our stowing team safely shelves the millions of items that come through each Amazon facility. (This is what I did in 2012).
Sortation: (Outbound) You might be using a hand-held reader to guide you in taking items from chutes and putting them into boxes, packaging items into a variety of shipping containers.
Shipping: (Outbound) You could be standing scanning and packaging single items for shipment or palletizing boxes and loading trucks.
Picking: (Outbound) You will walk 5-10 miles a day (I’ve heard of pickers who walked up to 13 miles a day) and will lift, bend, stoop and squat frequently. Ability to read a hand-held scanner and climbing stairs up to 30% of the time is necessary. Our picking team picks millions of items into totes and transfers the totes to a conveyor.
ICQA: (Support team, but on Outbound hours) While not listed on any website, during the 2013 season a large number of work campers at the Coffeyville site including me were placed in ICQA. You will walk 2-4 miles a day, will bend, lift, stoop and squat frequently, and will use a step stool occasionally. You will read a hand-held scanner and count bins for accuracy.
These are not the only positions. I have read blog posts from people who ended up doing some other kind of work. When Chris of Technomadia worked at the Kansas location in 2009 for instance he ended up in a sort of support position, running supplies back and forth for the Shippers so that they never needed to leave their stations to go get more boxes or tape. In 2012 I worked a few shifts in ISS which handles customer complaints and is on Inbound hours, my job was taking pictures of products and bins to resolve customer issues.
Besides being able to meet the physical demands of the job, you’ll need proof of graduation from high school or a copy of your GED. If you haven’t graduated from high school or gotten your GED, Amazon does have a program set up to help people achieve this. You can e-mail the CamperForce reps at the e-mail listed at the end of this article for more information. All applicants also need to pass a drug test.
Solo campers are as welcome as couples, but at least one person needs to work full-time hours. The second person may work part-time, or not be employed at Amazon at all. Hours are discussed more in a later section.
The three locations that do widespread hiring are: Campbellsville, KY, Coffeyville, KS, and Fernley, NV. Here are the blurbs about the three locations, again pulled from Amazon’s info page:
Campbellsville, KY: Campbellsville is located in the heart of Central Kentucky, nestled between the Cumberland Plateau and the Appalachian Mountains and offering the best of both regions. More than 22,000 people live in the area, with half of those in the county seat of Campbellsville. The area is home to a pleasant mix of agriculture, manufacturing and recreation. One of the area’s greatest recreational attractions is Green River Lake, which offers some of the finest fishing and boating in the state, as well as camping, picnicking, horseback riding and hiking.
There are 7 campgrounds available for Campbellsville workers. The nearest is right across the street. The farthest is about 16 miles out. I’ve never worked at this site, but by all accounts the campgrounds further out have more level sites and more separation between sites. Most sites are 50 amp and full hook up, those without sewer will get a honey wagon service.
Coffeyville, KS: Approximately 10,000 people live in Coffeyville, which is located near the Verdigris River in southeast Kansas, about 75 miles north of Tulsa, OK, and 60 miles west of Joplin, MO. Coffeyville’s most famous moment may have been the end of the Dalton Gang on October 5, 1892. The area is mostly rural farming community, and a short drive from many recreational parks and lakes. Just outside of Independence is the home of the Little House on the Prairie. Local cities host several festivals such as the Coffeyville Fair & Rodeo in Coffeyville and Neewollah in Independence.
There are 6 campgrounds available for Coffeyville workers. The two years I worked at this site I stayed at Big Chief which is right across the street from the warehouse, but there were issues last year and I have heard from folks going back this year that Big Chief is not an option for this season. There are three in the town of Coffeyville about 10-20 minutes out. The farthest is Elk Lake State Park, about 18 miles out but very beautiful – I stayed there for a few days in 2013 before starting at Amazon. Most sites are 50 amp and full hook up, those without sewer will get a honey wagon service.
Fernley, NV: Living in the Reno area, you have an opportunity to engage in a wide variety of activities and hobbies. The city and surrounding recreation areas offer great casinos for the risk-takers! A short drive away and you can enjoy water activities at the well-known Lake Tahoe and Truckee River, such as fishing, water-skiing, wakeboarding, parasailing, and kayaking. During the winter, the snow covered mountain slopes attract visitors to enjoy cross country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and snowboarding.
There are 8 campgrounds available for Fernley workers, but the closest two in the town of Fernley are still a good 20-30 minutes away, the ones in Reno are near an hour out. Most sites are 50 amp and full hook up, those without sewer will get a honey wagon service. Electric is not covered for Fernley workers! But you’ll also have the highest hourly rate of any site – more on that later.
I checked weather.com for climate information for the three sites, since I live in a three-season travel trailer and cold weather can make for a miserable experience, here is what I found:
(temps are listed as hi/low in Fahrenheit)
Average Precip: 3.5”
Average Precip: 4”
Average Precip: 4.5”
(precip values are rounded to nearest ½ inch)
Average Precip: 4”
Average Precip: 2.5”
Average Precip: 2.5”
Average Precip: 0.5”
Average Precip: 0.5”
Average Precip: 0.5”
Yes, below freezing temps can be expected overnight at all three sites particularly during the second half of the season, and there is a possibility of it getting really cold. Even if you only have a three-season RV like me, you absolutely can handle these temperatures, just take precautions to keep your plumbing safe. I’ve written more about cold weather RVing below.
During 2012 working at Coffeyville it never snowed and only got below freezing at night, the coldest temps were mid-20′s. During 2013 at the same park it got down into the single digits three different nights, would stay below freezing for up to a week at a time, there was accumulating snowfall on three occasions and an ice storm in the last week of the season which delayed my departure until Christmas. At Fernley I heard that it got down to 0 twice last year. So basically: be prepared for anything. The Farmer’s Almanac predicted that 2013 would be a harder winter than the previous two had been, I’ll be keeping an eye on the forcasts for this winter.
While Coffeyville is on average dryer than Campbellsville, Big Chief campground doesn’t drain well and mud and soft ground can be expected especially in October. At least it has the benefit of being within walking distance. Coffeyville also can get pretty windy sometimes. It was never strong enough to make my 17′ RV feel like it was about to take off, but if you use an awning, you’ll want to make sure it’s rolled up when you’re sleeping or working, just in case it gets gusty.
Hours and Pay
Traditionally, the period of employment is from the beginning of October, through December 23rd. Yes, you do get out before Christmas (barring weather). Sometimes some people will get out a few days before December 23rd, but CamperForce representatives will tell you to expect to work through that date. In 2012 I got out on the 22nd, in 2013 it was the 23rd. A limited number of work campers will start before October, and new hires will be starting on a weekly basis all the way up through the middle of November, so whether you’re available starting in September or not until November you have options.
A full shift is 10 workings hours with a half-hour lunch in the middle. Work weeks are 4 days in a row on, 3 days in a row off unless you get the donut shift which is 2 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 2 days off. This all changes once overtime starts though. You’ll also get two 15 minute paid breaks. There are two shifts: daytime and nighttime.
From what I saw at Coffeyville, shift times for Outbound jobs are 6am to 4:30pm for the day shift, and 5pm to 3:30am for the night shift. Inbound jobs start ½ hour after Outbound.
Wages and how overtime is handled differ between the three sites. There are some common denominators though. All sites pay per hour worked, and all overtime (hours worked over 40 in one week) is time and a half. To get weekend pay, you need to work both weekend days.
Wages for all three sites have remained the same since 2009 I believe, and I did ask and 2014 will be the same:
Campbellsville: $10.00/hour, $10.50 per hour if working nights or weekends. From blogs and forums that I have read, it sounds like overtime becomes mandatory for those working Outbound jobs when the season picks up at the end of November, but remains optional for Inbound.
Coffeyville: $10.50/hour, $11.00 if working nights or weekends. In 2013 Amazon tried something new and made all overtime for work campers voluntary. You could sign up for up to 58 hours if the hours were available, you still had to sign up for overtime in half or full day increments. Whether this change carries over into 2014 will depend on how many campers sign up and what the work load is like. Historically Coffeyville has less overtime than the other two sites – I ended up with about three days (30 hours total) of overtime both years I was here.
Fernley: $11.50 per hour, $12.25 if working nights or weekends. Overtime will become mandatory for Inbound and Outbound once peak hits. I spoke with a woman who worked Fernley in 2012 and she said she worked nearly 80 hours of overtime during her stay.
All campground costs (electric, water, and honey wagon services where sewer hook ups aren’t provided) are billed directly to Amazon during your employment, from two days before your start date to one day after. Unless you work at Fernley. At Fernley, water, site, and honey wagon/sewer are paid for, but you have to pay your own electric. Of course Fernley also pays the most per hour. None of the sites pay for propane, so if you’re at Campbellsville or Coffeyville you’d do well to heat your RV with electric as much as possible to save on money.
At all locations, you get a 10% discount on things ordered online, up to the first $1,000 spent. Which equates to a maximum of $100 off if you do the math.
There is a $0.50/hour bonus for the Fernley site for completing the season (it sounds like for 2014 it may be boosted to $1 per hour like the other sites, but I haven’t been able to confirm that yet), and a $1.00/hour bonus for the Campbellsville and Coffeyville sites for completing the season. Because of the hard work and cold weather, a lot of people who start will not finish the season, so the bonus is Amazon’s way to try to keep you there once you start.
While not listed as a benefit, some swag is handed out as part of the CamperForce experience. A lanyard and t-shirt seem like a given if you make it through the season. In 2012 I won a drawing for a $50 pre-paid visa card for meeting my quota. There are other things here and there too. At Coffeyville you got special points for meeting goals and having perfect attendence, and these points could be spent at a little store on site for Amazon labeled goodies like hats, folding chairs, pens, shirts, etc.
Meals on site are also occasionally provided by Amazon, the frequency again seems to vary widely. At Coffeyville both years there was a Thanksgiving meal and a Christmas meal, both of which were quite good. There was also a donut and juice day both years, and a cookie and fruit day. You will also receive a $50 referral bonus for every person/couple you refer to the CamperForce program who gets hired. I did this once in 2013 and the extra money was added to my check for that week. If you’re going to work in CamperForce this year thanks to this information, my full name is Rebecca Schade and I will be working at the Fernley site, hint hint.
- There are quotas to meet, both per individual and by group and shift. How strict your supervisors will be about meeting those quotas varies widely and seems to play a big part in how people rated their CamperForce experience. As CamperForce workers in Coffeyville, our individual goal was only 85% of the full-time Amazonian’s goals, which all but a couple of us were able to make both years I was there. I’m not sure if the goals for Fernley and Campbellsville are the same.
- You will be working alongside permanent Amazon employees, and people who were hired through other temp programs. In an ideal world all employees would treat each other with dignity and respect, but this is not an ideal world.
- No cameras, and thereby phones and the like, are allowed on site. This is strictly enforced.
- There are metal detectors and security agents at the entrances/exits. Expect to have to deal with the hassle of searches if you have metal plates or something like that.
- You must be not only punched in, but at your station by the start of your shift, or by the end of your lunch. This means that you actually need to arrive to work a good deal early to get to your station on time, and don’t have time during your half hour lunch to go back to your RV unless you’re at a campground right across the way (and even then you better move fast).
- You will be on your feet a lot. Every account I have read has considered a pair of high-quality tennis shoes to be a must, most also buy gel inserts for their shoes. I paid about $50 for the pair I bought at the start of the 2012 season, and it was a good investment.
The Hiring Process
You can get started by filling out an application at Amazon’s Career site here, or by e-mailing a CamperForce rep at firstname.lastname@example.org. That is also the e-mail any questions should be sent to. It was noted in the Workamper Rendezvous video that a resume is not strictly necessary for employment but I should think it would increase your chances to have one.
Once you have your application and supporting documents in, you wait for a bit. I heard back within two weeks both years, and then was contacted to set up a phone interview. The phone interview lasts 10 – 15 minutes, and at the end of the interview if the job seems like a good fit for you and Amazon you’ll be offered a position under the condition that you meet the job requirements as listed above. A hint: if you make it to the phone interview process, I’ve never heard of anyone not being made an offer afterward. The interview is mostly: can you stand for hours on end, are you committed to safety in the workplace, can you get along with your fellow co-workers, stuff like that.
After Agreeing to the Offer
If you accept, you’ll get additional information from Amazon about the site you’ll be at, and the contact list for the campgrounds at that site. Amazon will not reserve a site for you they just pay for it, so it’s up to you to contact the campground you’re most interested in at set up a reservation. This should be done as soon as possible for the best selection of sites. You’ll also get some paperwork via e-mail to sign: a confidentiality agreement and one or two other things. About one month from your target start date, you’ll have to set up your drug test which in 2013 required driving to an affiliated clinic, and since I was in the Badlands it was a good 45 minutes away. Luckily I had a two week window to get the drug test done in, so it wasn’t impossible to arrange to drive in to Sioux City on a day off.
Site Contact Numbers:
Campbellsville, KY: (270) 849-2604
Coffeyville, KS: (620) 464-2665
Fernley, NV: (775) 575-8045
This original post was written up in the summer of 2012, before I’d worked at Amazon. Since then, I have written a lot more about CamperForce. Here are links to later posts which talk more about orientation and what the work and pay is like, and more about dealing with the cold weather.
- CamperForce: What to Expect the First Few Days
- Two Weeks Into CamperForce (rundown on the Stowing job)
- Peak Kick-off at Amazon
- Amazon Update
- Figuring the Pay at Amazon
- Final CamperForce Review
2013 season: (wrote mostly about what was different from the previous year)
- CamperForce Changes
- Keeping Warm in a RV in Winter
- Working ICQA for CamperForce
- When the Plumbing Freezes
- CamperForce Earnings 2013
And that covers it! Any questions or comments ask below. If you’ve worked with Amazon in the past and have any insight to add or corrections that you think should be made to this information feel free to do so. The picture for this post is TUL1, the Amazon fulfillment center in Coffeyville behind a frozen tree during the ice storm in late December 2013.