While Amazon has attracted attention for deploying robots at some of its warehouses, experts said it could take a while before automation begins to seriously bite into its growing labor force.
"When it comes to dexterity, machines aren't really great at it," said Jason Roberts, head of technology and analytics for mass recruiter Randstad Sourceright, which is not working with Amazon on its jobs fair. "The picker-packer role is something humans do way better than machines right now."
Steve King, 47, a job candidate in Fall River with experience running his own business, agreed: "I don't think robots are up to snuff yet. I think they will be. Hopefully I can get in before the robots get that good and get above the robots in administration or something."
In recent years, reports have emerged about difficult working conditions at Amazon's warehouses, including deaths at two Amazon warehouses in 2014. The company also came under fire in 2011 for extreme heat at its warehouses that caused "heat-related injuries" among workers. Amazon said at the time that it took emergency actions during heat waves and subsequently installed cooling systems in its warehouses.
But many of those who showed up Wednesday were excited by the prospects of health insurance and other benefits, as well as advancement opportunities.
"I like to be busy, so I know Amazon is busy and they want hard workers," retired police officer Brian Trice said.
Trice was among those who stood in line in Baltimore on a hot day as Amazon contractors passed out bottles of water. In Fall River, a line snaked out of the warehouse and under an air-conditioned tent. In Kent, Washington, a vendor offered free cups of shaved ice from a truck playing steel-drum music.
Among those lining up in Kent were 18-year-old Javier Costa and his 49-year-old uncle, Manuel Alvarenga. Costa said the warehouse work wasn't necessarily what he was looking for, but his uncle, a recent immigrant from El Salvador, was looking for whatever he could get.
"He was making $6 an hour in El Salvador; you can imagine what the people below him were making," Costa said. "It's a harder life down there. At this point he just needs a job."
Ron Joslin, 55, said he's long worked at call centers, most recently making medical appointments for veterans. But he lost that job in April, and since then hasn't been able to find work — despite the Seattle area's hot labor market.