Amazon Fullfilment Center

An employee moves merchandise through an Amazon fulfillment center on New York’s Staten Island in December. Amazon plans to build a similar facility in Beloit and aims to hire as many as 500 workers.

The e-commerce trends decimating local retail have dampened our enthusiasm for Amazon’s planned distribution facility in Beloit.

This warehouse—a fulfillment center, Amazon calls it—would allow the company to fill orders faster for area residents, ultimately putting more pressure on brick-and-mortar stores. Why visit a local shop to buy jeans or toilet paper when Amazon can get them to you in a day, maybe just a couple hours?

That’s where our world is headed. We get it.

But let’s not be naive about the devil’s bargain struck to bring Amazon to our backyard. The convenience and employment opportunities that Amazon is offering our communities will come at a price.

We already have suffered the loss of many local stores. Just this month, Pier 1 Imports announced plans to close stores, including one in Janesville. In the past several years, we’ve witnessed the shuttering of Sears, Boston Store, JC Penney, Shopko and Toys ‘R’ Us. Other companies, including Kohl’s, have been reporting disappointing sales figures as more sales gravitate online. Amazon alone isn’t to blame, but it’s an undeniable factor.

Jobs in retail have been shifting to the warehouse sector. While working in retail has never been easy, life in a warehouse can be brutal. Working for Amazon is arguably the worst of all, according to studies and investigations of the company’s labor practices.

Amazon, of course, denies that its fulfillment centers are hazardous places to work. “Safety is a fundamental principle across our company; it is inherent in our facility infrastructure, design and operations. In 2018, across the U.S. we provided more than 1 million hours of safety training to employees and invested more than $55 million on safety improvement projects,” Amazon spokeswoman Jen Crowcroft said via a statement in response to our concerns about the company’s safety track record.

One must guzzle a lot of Amazon’s PR Kool-Aid to believe this company prioritizes worker health and safety, especially knowing what little regard this company has shown toward local communities losing their brick-and-mortar stores. Amazon is in the business of blowing up the status quo and whatever standards might be associated with it.

Lifting up communities and protecting the safety of workers is so, well, 20th century.

Crowcroft’s defense of Amazon’s safety record flies in the face of many Amazon workers’ experiences. Some of these workers have been protesting working conditions, including at a fulfillment center in Minnesota last year during what’s known as Prime Day. That’s when Amazon has special deals leading to a surge in order volume. Some protesters pointed to their injuries as evidence of poor working conditions.

A study released in December and sponsored by several labor groups, including the National Employment Law Project, found the injury rate for Amazon workers is more than twice as high as it is for the “notoriously hazardous general warehousing industry,” according to 2018 data. It found Amazon workers “suffered the most serious injuries at rates five times the national average for all private industries,” and many of these injuries occur during the peak holiday shopping season.

Some industries with lower injury rates include coal mining and logging.

Remember, when local residents click that “buy” button at Amazon’s site, they’re getting not only a good price on products shipped right to their door. They’re contributing to the demise of brick-and-mortar shops and, perhaps, to a fulfillment center worker’s injury.

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