Amazon’s Unfulfillment Centers

A Financial Times article spotlights Amazon’s shipping warehouse in the former coal-mining town of Rugeley, England. John Brownlee follows up:

The issue at Rugeley is not that workers are ungrateful for the jobs Amazon has given them, or even that they find these jobs unpleasant. Most of Rugeley’s workers come from mining families, a stock not exactly known for its weak-livered dandyism. It doesn’t matter that these jobs are hard. It’s that they have no future. … The jobs in the Rugeley fulfillment center are almost always temporary positions handed out by agencies on zero-hour contracts. Nothing is guaranteed, and a fulfillment associate’s job can completely disappear between one day and the next. As such, the local economy is not recovering as locals hoped. Amazon is not investing in the town’s people; instead, it’s mechanizing them.

Brownlee talks to Ben Roberts, whose photo series Amazon Unpacked documents Rugeley’s “vast” and “shockingly quiet” shipping center:

“The workers at Rugeley are effectively human robots,” Roberts says. “And the only reason Amazon doesn’t actually replace them with robots is they’ve yet to find a machine that can handle so many different sized packages.” … “When you buy something from an independent retailer, you might pay more than Amazon, but that extra bit is an investment,” Roberts explains. “When you pay it, you’re investing in the quality of not only your own life but the life of the community around you.”

Dustin Kurtz reacts:

The same panicked grasping by local governments at jobs, no matter how temporary or poorly paid, that led to the placement of the warehouse in Rugeley is how Amazon managed to place packing plants in other locations as well. Amazon (a company that receives more money from the UK government than it pays in taxes, remember) currently has other UK “fulfillment centers” in Hemel Hempsted, Hertfordshire; Swansea, Wales; Doncaster, South Yorkshire and Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, former mining towns all. At what point will those communities be forced to ask what, in fact, Amazon is giving back to them, if anything?