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Amazon’s bogus new warehouse jobs

Dave Ransom  |  Issue: March 2017
Amazon Prime Air

This is the photo of Amazon Prime Air, a system that can deliver packages to its customers in 30 minutes.
PHOTO: Amazon

 

Four times as many store clerks likely to lose theirs

Shortly after President Trump took office, demanding that companies create more jobs, Amazon announced it would be hiring 100,000 new workers.

That sounded like good news, but what Amazon didn’t announce was how many retail-store employees its new workers would displace — perhaps as many as 400,000.

That will be a hard hit for the salespeople and stock runners — in an industry where being Latino and bi-lingual is a plus.

Amazon’s warehouses are automated sweatshops. Low-paid workers rush against the clock, packaging items brought them by the squat Kiva robots roaming the aisles.

The Kivas work three shifts a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Amazon owns the company that makes them, and Amazon’s sprawling new warehouses — more than 70, spread across the country — are more and more robotic.

Amazon is not alone. Wal-Mart — once everybody’s backup job plan — is the number two online retailer after Amazon. It recently spent $3 billion to buy an Amazon challenger, Jet.com, as part of its move to the web. It is already using drones to take inventory.

Meanwhile, “brick-and-mortar” mall stores report that online buying seriously knocked them back again in the recent holiiday shopping season.

Macy’s announced it is closing 100 of its stores — one out of seven —and laying off 10,000 workers. This follows its closure of 40 more stores a year ago.

As automated online retail has grown, Macy’s, Sears, Kmart, Kohl’s, and Penney have laid off tens of thousands of people and closed hundreds of stores. But research firm Green Street Advisors estimates that the big depart-ment-store chains need to close some 800 more stores — one in five mall anchors.

It’s not just the anchors that are closing and laying off. After Christmas, women’s clothing chain The Limited announced it was closing its 250 stores and laying off its entire sales force of 4,000. But it’s keeping its website open.

Sears and K-Mart are also reported close to closing down entirely. They show symptoms that “bankruptcy is imminent,” a long-time bankruptcy lawyer told Market Watch in January. Between them, Sears and K-Mart employ nearly 180,000 workers.

Overall, in the years since online shopping began to become popular, the closure of “brick-and-mortar” stores in malls have cost nearly a million clerks and stock handlers their jobs.

Indeed, Trump’s call to bring old jobs back to the United States and to create new ones is unlikely to bear any real fruit — not under today’s capitalism, in which human workers compete against the cost of robots and other forms of computerized production.

In areas of the U.S. South where Trump got his most votes, the textile and apparel industry lost hundreds of thousands of jobs to Asia in recent years. Even without Trump, that production has started coming back. But it is coming back highly automated and with few jobs.

There’s more. Bowing to Trump’s demands, the world’s leading contract manufacturer of electronics, Taiwan-based Foxconn, announced in January it would open plants in the United States and employ 30,000 workers

Foxconn produces most of Apple’s electronics and already employs a million workers, most of them in China. But its CEO has also revealed plans to replace every one of his workers with robots — and he already has 60,000 on the shop floor.

 

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