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Avis Walton

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Avis Walton

Avis Walton is used to being told where to go and what to do once he gets there. As a "picker" for 99 Cents Only Stores, Walton spends his 5 a.m.-to-3:30 p.m. shift cruising around a 750,000-square-foot distribution center in Katy, Texas, in an electric cart responding to a stream of spoken instructions. "Go to row 12, section 8, bin 31," an authoritative woman's voice in his ear commands, and Walton zips to row 12. Blip-blip. He scans the bin tag with a wireless handheld computer to confirm he's arrived at the right place. "Pick two cases plus four items," the voice continues. Beginning to break a sweat, 24-year-old Walton lifts two cases of vinyl tablecloths onto a pallet, rips open a third box and removes four more tablecloths. "Confirm pick," he says into his microphone, thus prompting the voice to send him zipping off on another assignment. Doesn't her bossiness get annoying? "Nah, she's cool," Walton says. "She tells me what to do and I tell her when I do it."

Perhaps if this voice were that of a human, Walton might take offense. But the "she" that he and his 15 fellow pickers interact with throughout their shifts is actually

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