Booming e-commerce industry is making NJ the Warehouse State

Frank Greek is the president of Greek Development, a partner in New Jersey’s newest industrial development site, the Linden Logistics Center.

“The centralized location of New Jersey, the talented workforce that New Jersey has, and the transportation that New Jersey has to be able to serve the population in this whole part of the country has made New Jersey excellent for warehousing, distribution, manufacturing, research,” he said.

It’s an industry that’s transitioned from traditional manufacturing to one driven by e-commerce, says Greek’s partner at the Linden Logistics Center, Peter Cocoziello.

“The resurgence is truly about the logistics supply chain, and, you know, our port here, which I think is going to become number two in the United States for goods and services being shipped,” said Cocoziello, who’s the CEO of Advance Realty Investors. “We’re creating the kinds of buildings that make distribution highly efficient. And everything is about costs of goods moved and services.”

The boom is due in no small part to the expansion of Amazon in New Jersey. It launched in the state in 2012 and now has 10 fulfillment centers with more than 17,000 full-time employees.

“We’ve invested more than $6 billion into New Jersey’s economy through compensation and investments in our cloud and fulfillment infrastructure,” said Rachael Lighty, a spokesperson for Amazon. “We’ve actually found that we have created 17,000 additional indirect jobs across the state through services and construction.”

According to New Jersey’s Department of Labor, the warehousing and storage industry added 25,000 jobs in the last four years and it’s already outpacing the department’s 10-year projections for 2026 with 49,300 jobs to date. Those numbers are expected to grow.

The growth has led organizations like Workers United to call for better employee conditions. Megan Chambers leads an effort called Warehouse Workers Stand-up.

“This is a booming growth sector. New Jersey’s becoming the warehouse state, but what we see are very poor working conditions. We see mostly women and minority workers working long hours with unpredictable schedules, without full time employment in many cases,” she said.

And while Amazon has already moved to $15 an hour for all its employees, Workers United wants to see that across the industry.

“Frankly in this sector, it should be $15 minimum now. And that is feasible for this sector where developers and operators are making lots of money. And workers really should have living wage, stable jobs. And that would benefit the state and our communities tremendously,” Chambers said.

But Jim Coyle, the president of the Gateway Regional Chamber of Commerce, which represents warehousing and logistics businesses, says that increase is happening organically.

“The average wages are going up very, very quickly and there is a big shortage of workers available, even unskilled workers, so you’re seeing wages as high as $15 an hour or more for entry level warehouse-man type jobs, plus benefits,” said Coyle. “The market led the way. When you have shortages, people have to pay more.”

But Amazon said it’s not seeing those shortages.

“We are constantly hiring, however we haven’t found a shortage of workers. Just the opposite, we have thousands of people who want to work at Amazon. They know we have great jobs with industry leading pay and great benefits that start on day one,” said Lighty.

And while that sounds good, it’s not entirely positive for the workers, says former employee David-Jamel Williams.

“You’re basically a fuse in a car — a cheap part that once it burns out, you can be thrown away and replaced by another one. And that’s how you’re treated at Amazon,” Williams said.

He shared concerns about the way employees were treated during his time there, including the process of reporting work-related injuries. It wouldn’t be the first time the issue was raised. In 2016, OSHA, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, cited Amazon for not reporting 26 instances of work-related injuries and illness. There was also a worker death in 2013 in Avenel.

“Amazon is incredibly focused on safe workplaces. While one incident is too many, we’re constantly looking at ways to better improve the safety of our fulfillment centers,” said Lighty.

Coyle says it’s an issue the whole sector needs to grapple with.

“Because of the lack of space, you go into a lot of operations and you know that if an OSHA investigator, or a fire marshal shows up, they’re going to get closed down,” Coyle said. “If you keep your employees safe, you also keep them at work. You’re not paying workman’s comp, you’re not paying medical claims and they’re there working.”

He says taking safety seriously is just good business sense.

WATCH the second part of Joanna’s series: Amazon leads e-commerce boom, but what does it mean for warehouse workers?

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