Online shopping, shifted into overdrive by the COVID-19 pandemic, is here to stay. But the logistics operations behind Internet retail companies like Amazon are often problematic because they are profitable, with a long history of bypassing environmental laws and exploiting workers.
In the Inland Empire, a sprawling logistics hub located an hour east of LA, residents outside warehouses regularly choke on the thick, black smoke of diesel emissions emanating from the industry’s army of idle trucks. They are kept awake by the incessant low rumble of giant semi barreling along the interstate, and the high-pitched sound of cargo planes flying overhead.
Inside warehouses, morale is as bad as air pollution.
JJ, an Amazon employee whose name has been changed to protect his identity, says that many of the people he started with a few months ago have moved on — have already left or been fired. have been given.
“I worry about my job security,” says JJ, who has been reprimanded for helping other workers while taking breaks in the bathroom. “But I feel more comfortable than average because I try to work as many as two or three people … although I barely get paid as one.”
The COVID-19 crisis has made the situation even more unbearable due to prolonged exposure to air pollution linked to poor health outcomes For those fighting COVID-19. But environmental health activists and labor organizations across the country are on the rise at the moment. In the Inland Empire, as lawmakers roll out the red carpet for another massive Amazon Logistics Center, environmental justice advocates, union members, faith leaders and local families are demanding an upgrade from one of the pandemic’s most profitable companies. are.
And they are making significant progress.
DAVID MCNEW / The New York Times
The Inland Empire wasn’t always the center of the miles-long warehouses, big-rig semis and heavy-duty machinery that supply our online shopping demands. “America’s Shopping CartIt was once a major center for the citrus industry. Communities of color, pushed inland through historical patterns of redlining and discriminatory land use policies, made their homes under the towering San Bernardino Mountains.
In the 1970s, however, the Valley of the Oranges transformed into a valley of warehouses after cheap land, with easy access to numerous freeways, railyards, and shipping ports, as well as the lure of a booming logistics industry. In the last decade, Approximately 150 million square feet of warehouse space Built in the Inland Empire, which is roughly the equivalent of four Central Parks. It’s no surprise that toxic diesel fumes from the area’s countless semi trucks and trains now linger over the canyons that straddle the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains, adding to more pollution than nearby LA.
The end result smells like a lit cigarette in an orange Fanta bottle.
“I feel drowsy, my chest feels tight, I have difficulty breathing, and everything takes more energy,” says Angelica Balderas, 39, a resident of Inland Empire. Respiratory problems.
Balderas is hardly alone. Inland Empire is Some of the worst ozone and soot pollution in the country. San Bernardino and Riverside counties, which comprise the region, have asthma rates twice the national average.
Anthony Victoria-Middens, a longtime local environmental voice, says that building more warehouses in “diesel death zones” will make even more people sick in an area that is already over-polluted. And although more warehouse will inevitably mean more jobs, the question is at what cost. News reports described the warehouse environment as “soul crushed, where employees are treated “as”robots” and injuries are common. Less than half the jobs in the Inland Empire pay a living wage.
“It’s like this slow violence that e-commerce chains instigate,” says Victoria-Middens, “that’s a cycle of madness.”
The inhabitants of the Inland Empire were alive When he first learned about the proposal to build a huge new warehouse in his neighbourhood. 700,000 square foot facility, which started operating This spring, the community is estimated to emit literally one ton of air pollution each day. The project will also bring with it round the clock flights (about 24 per day) and 500 daily truck trips in the suburban area.
Nearly 100 people late on Cyber Monday in December 2019 collect In front of one of Amazon’s many warehouses in the Inland Empire. They were armed with a list of demands from former Amazon CEO and one of the world’s richest men, Jeff Bezos. (bezos Makes about $2,489 per second, the average American worker more than doubled in a week.)
Area residents and union members are asking Amazon to provide the community with basic quality-of-life benefits, such as guaranteed life-saving jobs and robust pollution reduction plans at the proposed facility. Specifically, they are prompting Amazon to buy zero-emissions electric trucks, which will keep the air free of harmful diesel pollution.
While companies like Amazon may all commitments In order to power distribution fleets in their customers’ neighborhoods, they need to electrify their diesel trucks and equipment to protect people trying to breathe in diesel death zones.
“That means none of it is near ‘zero emissions crap,'” says JJ. “That’s too much jargon to pass off something like natural gas, which is certainly still a source of pollution. source.”
JJ got into the environmental justice movement a few years ago, after watching a YouTube video explaining the urgency of the climate crisis. JJ decided to join groups like sunrise movement, which calls for comprehensive, visionary policies such as a green new deal To address climate change.
While at work, J.J. Be careful to remain silent about their extra-curricular activities. During the Cyber Monday protests, JJ covered his face and took off his glasses to hide his identity. Even before the pandemic, JJ says, people at work sometimes wore literal masks, which are specifically designed to filter out air pollution.
Photo courtesy of Calvin Ward
Pastor Calvin Ward, a former Amazon employee who grew up in Riverside, can attest to the dangerous working conditions of warehouses, too. During his nearly three years working there, Ward saw employees so cramped for time that they would prefer not to walk to the bathroom. Maintenance personnel often claimed that they would find human waste in the dustbins.
“What I saw when I was there was inhumane,” says Ward. “We were treated like slaves.”
During Cyber Monday crackdown, protesters blocked one of Amazon’s driveways so that the company could not fulfill its orders on the busiest shopping day of the year. Ward, who spoke out in protest, expressed satisfaction at backing down against a company that does not invest in the well-being of the surrounding community.
“We did our job,” Ward says.
a Coalition of groups against new warehouse The Inland Empire has also organized a number of actions to call the endless tide of warehouse expansion “enough”. Outside the region, they are supported by groups demanding that Amazon take stronger climate action and implement better COVID-19 protections for workers, 20,000 of whom have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Matt Cardi / Getty Images
While local and national pressure for the clean logistics industry mounts, EarthJustice is pressing inside the courtroom. On behalf of coalition members such as the Sierra Club and Teamsters Local 1932, EarthJustice sued the Federal Aviation Administration For its failure to adequately assess the environmental impact of the proposed warehouse for residents of San Bernardino. In February, the court heard oral arguments in the case.
“The federal government’s insistence that this project will have no significant impact is wild. This means that there is a lot of air pollution in one of the most polluted counties in the country,” says EarthJustice Attorney Adrian Martinez. “So if this project has no effect on our air pollution, nothing will happen.”
Martinez says the cursory review by the federal government, working with the San Bernardino International Airport Authority, “is just a slap on the face to everyone who lives here and cares about these important issues.”
Photo courtesy of San Bernardino Airport Communities
The warehouse lawsuit is part of a broader fight to clean up Southern California’s notoriously dirty air. known as right to void campaign, it aims to electrify everything from heavy-duty trucks to public transport buses, cars and port equipment – and put it on a clean energy grid to save lives, protect our climate and bolster the economy. have to drive. Over the years, the freight movement industry has largely flown under the radar, despite the industry’s significant climate impact from diesel-powered ships, trains, trucks, and construction equipment.
But the tide is turning. After seven years of community activism and advocacy, the regulator in Southern California Passed A landmark rule in May that would reduce air pollution from mega-warehouses by 10 to 15%. The new rule, which applies to mega-warehouses such as Amazon’s terminal in the Inland Empire, will require warehouse operators to electrify trucks to and from warehouses or take other measures to improve air quality, thereby reducing the environmental risk. Local jobs will be created by cleaning. This is an important initial step in curbing pollution from a historically less regulated industry.
And in April, our lawsuit against World Logistics Center, the world’s largest master-planned warehouse development, resulted in a historical settlement Joe will invest up to $47 million in electric vehicles, rooftop solar and other solutions at Inland Empire, where the 40-million-square-foot facility will be located.
JJ says that if companies like Amazon are as passionate about climate change and community well-being as they claim, they should continue to agree to demands that local residents and activists are saying will help the community. would benefit.
“If you really want to be a leader for change, you do it this way,” JJ says, “listen to the community, and deliver the solutions they are seeking.”
This piece was originally published in April 2020 and has been updated to reflect the latest news.
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