Amazon Distribution Center to Open in Beloit by Winter 2020 Despite Negative Workplace Reports
On Jan. 6, the construction of a 1-million-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center, projected to provide over 500 jobs, was announced by Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther. The warehouse will be located in Beloit’s Gateway Business Park, a development center east of Beloit and north of the Wisconsin-Illinois border at the end of Colley Road. Facilities currently housed at the park include Kettle Foods, Kerry Ingredients, Staples Fulfillment Center, Alliance Development, and G5 Brewing Co. According to an interview with Luther and WIFR News, Amazon, the world’s largest online sales company, will become the biggest provider of jobs in the city of Beloit when the facility opens in the winter of 2020.
The distribution center will house robots that assist employees with picking, packing, and shipping small items, such as electronics, books, and home goods, according to Channel3000. The 500 full-time positions that are open will pay $15 an hour and, according to Andrew Janke of the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation via WIFR, “the company has a rather robust training reimbursement program. They reimburse up to 95 [percent] of tuition cost so folks have the opportunity to come, get a job, learn a whole new skill set, get a degree and potentially grow their careers elsewhere.”
The decision and construction came underway within just a few months; Luther revealed that Amazon first contacted Beloit city leaders in September before breaking ground on the new center in October. The 80 acres of land for the $105 million warehouse was sold for just $80, according to a press release from Dec. 19. Gateway Business Park, which opened in 2001, advertises on its website prices of $30,000 to $40,000 per acre. However, the 80 acres for Amazon sold for approximately $1 per acre. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Amazon has invested $1.6 billion in Wisconsin. “This development would not only provide our community with jobs and increased property value but also a valued relationship with a household name,” said Luther. “A project of this magnitude is certainly a game-changer for Beloit.”
The $15 an hour pay is substantially more than the current Wisconsin minimum wage of $7.25 (the maximum current wage for Beloit student workers is $7.75 an hour), but Beloit students were quick to point out the massive wealth of Amazon founder, president and CEO Jeff Bezos when asked about the new distribution center. Bezos was declared “by far the richest person on the planet” by Forbes in July 2018 with a net worth of approximately $150 billion. Bezos has been repeatedly criticized by The New York Times for his lack of public philanthropy or charitable foundations. Since 2018, Bezos has donated several million to fight homelessness and support undocumented immigrants, but despite being openly anti-Trump and in support of an open borders policy for immigration, Amazon has marketed facial recognition software to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). However, in an Instagram post on Monday, Feb. 17, Bezos announced plans for a $10 billion fund to combat climate change.
“Jeff Bezos has a ridiculous amount of money,” Olivia Potter’21 told the Round Table when asked about Amazon’s new center in Beloit. “And he has the opportunity to distribute that amount of money and just chooses not to.”
Finn Brandt ’22 pointed to stories of deaths in Amazon warehouses. Most recently, 48-year-old Amazon warehouse employee Billy Foister passed away after going into cardiac arrest on Sept. 2, 2019, while working in an Amazon facility in Ohio. Reports from fellow employees stated Foister laid on the ground for 20 minutes before help arrived, while Amazon told The Guardian they responded: “within minutes.” The incident was cited in the 2019 report of the “Dirty Dozen” by the National Council for Occupational Health and Safety of “employers who put communities and workers at risk.” Amazon was cited as having six worker deaths in seven months and a total of 13 worker deaths since 2013. In March 2019, 60-year-old Joe Bowman also died of cardiac arrest while working at an Amazon fulfillment center. While Bowman’s supervisor was on the phone with a 911 operator, the supervisor could be heard telling another employee, “go back to work.”
Amazon also made headlines in June 2012 after the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) was notified of ambulances stationed outside a Pennsylvania warehouse for several days due to the number of employees collapsing of heatstroke after temperatures inside the warehouse reached 102 degrees. In 2018, undercover journalist James Bloodworth described working at an Amazon center in the UK and seeing employees urinate in water bottles because they were afraid of taking restroom breaks. A Dec. 2019 article by The Atlantic also described a relentless workplace environment where employees are pushed to meet package delivery deadlines. One employee cited in the article, 54-year-old Candace Dixon, suffered “bulging discs… back sprain, joint inflammation, and chronic pain” after less than two months on the job in an Amazon warehouse where she picked up and scanned over 100,000 items, one item every 11 seconds, during her employment. Throughout the controversies, Amazon has stated that the “safety and well-being of our associates is our number one priority.”
“Amazon has horrible working conditions where people are turned into machines for Jeff Bezos,” Brandt said. “But [the pay] is more than $7.25.” Potter also echoed Brandt’s statement about the above-minimum-wage salary. “I think it’s cool they’re creating jobs for the community,” Potter said, “however, these jobs are created by Amazon and the way they treat their employees is absolutely abysmal… the only upside [to this facility] are the jobs created.”
Sources: WIFR News, Channel 3000, Wisconsin State Journal, Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation, The Guardian, The New York Times, Forbes, The Atlantic