I Reckon: Amazon’s ‘last-mile’ delivery centers will be the ‘last’ of us

If you’ve read at least one of my articles, you know that I’m not the biggest fan of the e-commerce giant Amazon. From an environmental standpoint, it is terrible. From a labor rights standpoint, Amazon is about the worst you can get employer-wise. It is precisely its blatant disregard for both of those aspects that helped fuel its unprecedented expansion in recent years, and as early as September 2020, Amazon committed to expanding its delivery presence into suburbs and cities. 

In my old stomping grounds of Atlanta, Amazon has moved in with full force. Data from Colliers International finds that there are 22 million square feet in fulfillment center projects under construction in Atlanta, trailing just behind Chicago and Dallas but beating less populated cities like Riverside and Phoenix. If you’re a city leader, you could very well tout this as a means for Atlanta to provide new jobs. But for residents, the prospect of more business coming into the city means more traffic on notoriously congested roads and environmental effects that metro Atlanta’s predominantly Black population would suffer the most under. 

Let’s not forget that Amazon is about as sinister of an employer as they are a nightmare to live around. In the past, Amazon enforced strict productivity goals and invasive monitoring in the workplace. But really, are we surprised? Amazon already knows what its average customer likes to buy or read thanks to its powerful use of technology. Now, it’s using the same monitoring and tracking principles to essentially tell Amazon workers wanting to unionize that they are being watched. Along with timed bathroom breaks and grueling hours, Amazon is clearly not the kind of employer you’d want to work for or the kind of company you want to exist near you. 

Unfortunately, in our Californian neck of the woods, Amazon is starting to breathe down the necks of suburbs and cities in the southern region of the state. Orange County Register writer Jeff Collins wrote that Amazon added 12 new delivery stations in Los Angeles County — 12 not-so-small facilities poking up in ever-growing places like Anaheim, Torrance and Burbank.  

Look, faster delivery isn’t bad at all if it is done under ethical labor and environmental standards. That’s why folks pay more for Priority Mail Express at USPS or overnight shipping at UPS. Folks in those instances pay for a service at a fair price. In the hypothetical case of Amazon v. Workers, however, you’re paying for a burgeoning industry giant to overwork its employees, limit them to meager breaks and leaving them high and dry with little to no substantial benefits — all for a delivery speed that is a mere few days faster than that of Amazon’s competitors. All this to satisfy some fleeting need for material goods that is sure to disappear after the last package comes … right?

Of course, I have no soapbox to stand on when it comes to shaming folks for using Amazon. Whether you’re a busy college student or a working professional with no time to run to brick-and-mortar stores, Amazon is probably the most appealing alternative out there. But I would ask that all of us do something with the time we have while we’re waiting around for packages. 

The one thing slowing down Amazon is the slow process of getting warehouse plans approved in city councils and their respective planning committees. That’s where students come in. Mark your calendars for the next council and planning meetings and sit in on them. You can also review the meeting minutes, keep an ear or an eye out for warehouse projects, call city council folks and simply ask around. 

You’ll almost never find Amazon’s name outright on a development proposal, and it won’t be easy to root them out at first glance. But dedicate an hour every other week or so, and you might just be able to pick up on and stop a future Amazon hub from coming to a city near you.

Quynh Anh Nguyen is a sophomore writing about the implications of current Southern political events in her column “I Reckon.”