Amazon’s stumble stubs South Jersey’s toe | Editorial – NJ.com

Amazon’s stumble stubs South Jersey’s toe | Editorial – NJ.com

No tears here for Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and — until recently dethroned by Elon Musk — the world’s richest man. It’s undeniable, though, that Amazon’s fortunes and Bezos’ fortune have both taken a recent hit.
The fallout has reached South Jersey, amid word that the e-commerce behemoth has a serious over-expansion problem as sales growth declines from stratospheric levels early in the pandemic. Amazon lost $3.8 billion in 2022′s first quarter, its first reported quarterly loss since 2015. Such a financial burn rate would send mere mortal corporations into immediate bankruptcy, but not Amazon, whose total sales were $116.4 billion for the quarter.
Amazon is applying the brakes on rapid warehouse building, and even trying to shed some locations. Its CFO blamed the first-quarter loss on “productivity loss, inflation and situations where its warehouse capacity exceeded demand.”
That 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’ll close June 28, and it’s good that the company plans to transfer, rather than lay off, most of the 80 workers.
Some of those workers picketed last week, however, claiming that management has reneged on a promise to transfer them to a larger Amazon warehouse in West Deptford Township, about 11 miles away.
Now, the workers say, Amazon wants most of them to work at another Gloucester County site, in Logan Township, that’s significantly farther from Bellmawr. The prospect of driving 45 minutes or so to a job that pays well above minimum wage with decent benefits is not the world’s worst thing, but these Amazon workers note that it’s not what they signed up for. They’re also griping about schedule changes they say will alter their longstanding arrangements for child care and even doing charity work.
It’s no wonder that many Amazon workers are demanding organized representation; they are in a situation where management holds all the cards and plays them with impunity. If the Bellmawr employees’ claims are true, Amazon is practically inviting them to sign union cards.
Wednesday’s “wildcat walkout” — can we even call it that if the workers don’t have a union? — by 10 Bellmawr workers had plenty of help from organizers working for two different unions, disgruntled ex-employees from other Amazon sites, and pro-union U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, D-1st Dist. They pushed more serious questions about the above-industry-norms injury rates at Amazon warehouses.
Attempts to organize Amazon workers have been a mixed bag so far, and the pros and cons of doing so in South Jersey are not our main concern. It’s that the company has such a large footprint that working conditions and facility consolidations raise legitimate questions that permit lawmakers like Norcross to get involved. As of 2020, Amazon is New Jersey’s largest private employer, and 33% of all warehouse employees nationwide work for the firm. Amazon accounted for almost half the on-the-job U.S. warehouse injury claims in 2021, according to a union coalition’s report.
Standing outside Amazon’s Logan site Wednesday, Norcross demanded an investigation by the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) because of the high injury rates, saying “One out of two serious injuries, in the whole state of New Jersey, is Amazon.”
Props to Norcross if he can get OSHA off of its understaffed duff these days to do anything but respond after the fact to individual accidents and workplace safety complaints. It may fall to other federal and state agencies to undertake a broader review; they should be prepared to do so.
Another reason for public intervention is that Amazon is reportedly attempting to reduce total U.S. warehouse capacity by a whopping 10 million square feet. Not long ago, we urged local zoning/planning boards to reconsider approving plans for a plethora of “spec” warehouses, unless they had one ready-made tenant that was sure to keep growing in the e-commerce boom — Amazon. It might be time to chuck that advice.
Just ask Bellmawr. No matter how the pushes for unionization and the injury probe turn out, the borough will have one more empty industrial park building on its hands come June 28.
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