CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. — Twinkling lights, ornament-strewn trees and bustling campgrounds. Those are signs of the Christmas season in this Kentucky town, where the Amazon.com distribution center recruits an armada of RV owners to help fill holiday orders.
They’re dubbed the “CamperForce” by the world’s largest online retailer. Hundreds of campers are assigned packing, sorting and collection duties at Amazon warehouses in Kentucky, Kansas and Nevada to keep orders flowing during the rush.
Swarms of workers take up temporary residence in campgrounds. For many, it’s a lifestyle and mindset for retirees, empty nesters and younger parents who shuck traditions of home and work to roam from campsite to campsite, job to job.
“It’s a job, it’s not a career, so you don’t have to take it so seriously,” said Ron Dale, a college graduate with a business degree. “Go and have a good time. … You don’t have the stress of thinking, ‘I’ve got to perform at an unbelievable level. I’ve got to work extra hours so the boss knows I’m dedicated.’ ”
It gives him more time to spend with his wife, 7-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter, he said.
Since 2010, Amazon has recruited campers for its distribution centers in Campbellsville, Ky., Coffeyville, Kan., and Fernley, Nevada – places with modest populations where the company has to cast a wider net to bring in enough temporary workers to fill its needs.
The stints last about three months, and the hours on the job tend to grow longer as Christmas nears.
Seasonal workers, including campers, play “an important role” in filling customer orders during the holiday season, said company spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman. On its peak day in 2012 – Nov. 26 – Amazon customers ordered more than 26.5 million items worldwide, or 306 items per second. Amazon has said it expects an even busier holiday season this year.
Overall, the Seattle-based company said it was hiring 70,000 full-time seasonal workers around the country during this holiday season. Seasonal workers at its order fulfillment centers are eligible for health benefits and earn about 94 percent of the wages of regular employees.
Dale, 58, and his 31-year-old wife, Kristin, embraced the roving lifestyle this past fall. They loaded their kids, the family dog and some belongings into their 24-foot-long camper that’s now home.
The Dales’ camping site the past few weeks gives them a sweeping view of scenic Green River Lake in south-central Kentucky.
“It’s like those people that spend millions of dollars to pay for a view like that,” Ron Dale said. “It’s like we’re on a vacation, permanently.”
The unconventional lifestyle has appealed to retirees and empty nesters as well as younger families eager to downsize and sightsee while working odd jobs.
“You have to not be attached to a lot of stuff,” said Trampas Jones, 34, who is embracing the lifestyle with his 41-year-old wife, Heather.
Many transient workers land temporary jobs at resorts, campgrounds, theme parks and state and national parks. The workers and employers looking to hire them can go online to match up. For some, the wages pay for their fun. Others rely on the salaries to cover necessities.
For all it satisfies a yearning for wanderlust.
“There’s so much out there to see,” said Gayle Kerch, who travels the country with her husband, Jim, and their two dogs in their RV. “It’s just so vast. I can’t imagine staying in one spot and not going and seeing the country.”