No tears here for Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and – until recently dethroned by Elon Musk – the richest man in the world. There’s no denying, however, that Amazon’s fortunes and Bezos’ fortunes have both taken a recent hit.
The fallout has reached South Jersey, as news comes that the e-commerce giant has a serious over-expansion problem as sales growth wanes from stratospheric levels at the start of the pandemic. Amazon lost $3.8 billion in the first quarter of 2022, its first quarterly loss since 2015. Such a rate of financial depletion would send mere mortal corporations into immediate bankruptcy, but not Amazon, whose total sales were 116 .4 billion for the quarter.
Amazon is holding back the rapid construction of warehouses and is even trying to get rid of some locations. Its chief financial officer blamed the first-quarter loss on “loss of productivity, inflation and situations where its warehouse capacity exceeded demand.”
This translates locally into the announced closure of one of Amazon’s smaller direct-to-consumer shipping facilities, a so-called “last mile” fulfillment center in Bellmawr. It will close on June 28, and it is good that the company is considering transferring, rather than laying off, most of the 80 workers.
However, some of those workers picketed last week, saying management had reneged on a promise to move them to a larger Amazon warehouse in West Deptford township, some 11 miles away.
Now, the workers say, Amazon wants most of them to work at another site in Gloucester County, Logan Township, which is much farther from Bellmawr. The prospect of driving about 45 minutes for a job that pays well above minimum wage with decent benefits isn’t the worst thing in the world, but these Amazon workers note that’s not what they’re for. have registered. They are also complaining about schedule changes which they say will alter their longstanding arrangements for childcare and even charity work.
It’s no wonder many Amazon workers are demanding organized representation; they are in a situation where management holds all the cards and plays them with impunity. If Bellmawr employees’ claims are true, Amazon is practically inviting them to sign union cards.
Wednesday’s “wild walkout” — can we even call it that if the workers don’t have a union? – by 10 Bellmawr workers received a lot of help from organizers working for two different unions, disgruntled former employees from other Amazon sites and pro-union US Representative Donald Norcross, D-1st Dist. They pushed more serious questions about the above-industry-standard injury rates at Amazon’s warehouses.
Attempts to organize Amazon workers have been mixed so far, and the pros and cons of doing so in South Jersey are not our primary concern. It’s that the company has such a footprint that working conditions and facility consolidations raise legitimate questions that allow lawmakers like Norcross to get involved. As of 2020, Amazon is New Jersey’s largest private employer, and 33% of all warehouse workers nationwide work for the company. Amazon accounted for nearly half of US warehouse injury claims in 2021, according to a labor coalition report.
Outside Amazon’s Logan site on Wednesday, Norcross called for an investigation by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) into the high injury rate, saying “one in two serious injuries, in the entire state of New Jersey, is Amazon”.
Kudos to Norcross if it can get OSHA out of its understaff these days to do more than respond to individual accidents and workplace safety complaints after the fact. It may be the responsibility of other federal and state agencies to undertake a broader review; they must be prepared to do so.
Another reason for public intervention is that Amazon is reportedly trying to cut total US warehouse capacity by a whopping 10 million square feet. Not too long ago we urged local zoning/planning councils to reconsider approving plans for a plethora of “specified” warehouses, unless they had a tenant ready to move in. job that was sure to keep growing in the e-commerce boom – Amazon. It might be time to throw that advice away.
Ask Bellmawr. Regardless of the outcome of the lobbying for unionization and the injury investigation, the borough will have another empty industrial park building in its hands on June 28.
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