able to utilize even a fraction of that number could alleviate labor strains in the warehouse, he said.
The key would be for warehouse managers to adjust their time-honored practices, whether it means relaxing time-off
requirements, staggering worker schedules,
or, in the case of older workers, accepting
the reality that they move a little slower,
Devine said. “There is enough labor out
there. Just not in the traditional sense,” he
Mikitka of WERC said the same people
who described wage and availability concerns when Amazon builds a facility also
said that, if a market is tight enough, any
company can alter the supply-demand balance simply by entering it.
The consensus is that current labor conditions would be tight even if Amazon didn’t
exist. That’s because as big as Amazon has
become, it does not dominate an $18 trillion economy. O’Brien of Raymond posits
that if Amazon weren’t around to capitalize
on e-commerce’s potential, another company would have done so, noting that U.S.
consumer trends were ripe for the type of
revolution under way today.
At the same time, however, there is a
sense that Amazon isn’t doling out any
pain that it isn’t bringing on itself through
its rapid growth. “Right now, finding labor
is the single biggest challenge across the
board for everyone, and especially [for]
Amazon,” said Marc Wulfraat, president
If a labor shortage and the higher costs
that accompany it persist, folks shouldn’t
count on a shift to automation to provide
substantial relief. Amazon itself has said
that its objective is not to use automation
to replace its work force, but to supplement
it by freeing humans to handle more value-added functions. Devine of ProLogistix,
who has long held the view that it would be
virtually impossible for technology to substitute for the aggregate value of so many
workers, echoed that sentiment. “What
we will see automation do is make people
more accurate and productive in their
work,” he said.
Devine said he doesn’t foresee any time
within the next decade where warehouse
automation will make a dent in the continued need for human labor.
changed jobs for higher pay, around
30 percent said their new job paid
more than $2 an hour above their
previous one. In some cases, the
hourly increases are approaching
$3, according to Brian Devine,
Amazon’s facilities are often
clustered near competitors’ locations, which can put pressure on
labor cost and availability because
multiple companies are drawing
from the same labor pool, Devine
said. Michael Mikitka, chief executive officer of the Warehousing
Education and Research Council
(WERC), said some members have
told him of shrinking labor availability in markets where Amazon
opens a facility.
Amazon’s growth has created a
ripple effect as well. The Raymond
Corp., a Greene, N. Y.-based forklift
manufacturer and a big Amazon
supplier, is increasingly relying
on its dealership network to sup-
port busy in-house technicians
in providing repair and mainte-
nance services, according to Jim
O’Brien, Raymond’s vice president
of telematics. Part of that can be
attributed to Amazon’s growth
and the demands it puts on fulfill-
ment center vendors like Raymond,
O’Brien said. Overall, however,
Raymond’s labor challenges have
been moderate but not severe.
HOW BIG A PROBLEM?
It’s a given that Amazon influences the ebb and flow of warehouse
and DC labor. The question is to
what degree. While the official U.S.
unemployment rate hovers around
4. 2 percent, there are still around
95 million people over the age of 16
who, for one reason or another, are
not in the work force, said Devine
of ProLogistix, citing U.S.
Department of Labor data. Being