Amazon bringing distribution center — and 300 jobs — to Holyoke

  • This Wednesday, July 17, 2019 photo shows an Amazon shipping truck at a fulfillment center in Phoenix. Amazon.com Inc. reports financial earnings on Thursday, July 25. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Ross D. Franklin—AP PHOTO

  • A worker replaces a bin that has been delivered to her workstation while filling orders on June 26 at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Staten Island. AP PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/24/2019 3:45:11 PM

HOLYOKE — An Amazon distribution center is set to open in Holyoke this fall, Mayor Alex Morse announced Thursday, bringing about 300 jobs — and some wariness of the tech giant — to the city. 

Wages will start at $15 an hour for full- and part-time employees, Morse said, and the company has “committed to hiring as many local residents as possible.” Amazon will not receive any tax breaks from Holyoke.

The distribution center will be at 161 Lower Westfield Road, formerly home to the Paolo Freire Social Justice Charter School and Atlas Copco manufacturing. 

Morse believes Holyoke’s location at the intersection of the Mass Pike and I-91 played a major role in attracting the company to the city. 

“I think Amazon’s decision reinforces that argument about how our location and business ecosystem is conducive to businesses like this,” Morse said. 

Despite the anticipated economic impact the facility will provide, the tech giant’s pending arrival in Holyoke has also raised some concerns regarding the company’s treatment of its employees and involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Last month, some workers at a fulfillment center in Minnesota held a strike on the first day of Amazon’s two-day Prime Day event, citing factors such as an unreasonable amount of work demanded in a short period of time, a lack of advancement opportunities, and anti-union behavior from Amazon, the Minnesota Star Tribune reported. The company also met with ICE officials last year to pitch its facial-recognition software.

Rose Bookbinder, co-director of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, said that while she is glad to see Amazon committing to paying $15 per hour, she remains concerned about work conditions at the company. 

“Amazon’s corporate agenda of lowering wages, cutting and replacing people with machines, and their collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and all these horrendous things they do are exactly what we’re fighting against,” Bookbinder said.

“I also recognize that there’s great opportunity in hundreds of jobs coming to Holyoke, and Holyoke needs jobs, but we need to prioritize jobs that are going to provide respect and dignity for our community,” she said.

Morse said the city has “no formal role in the negotiations of those particulars” regarding workers’ rights, and that the city’s interactions with the company ended at a site plan review. He did say, however, that he shares “the concerns that others share around the working conditions.”

“I want to make sure that people are making at least $15 an hour, that they have benefits, that they’re treated correctly,” Morse said. “And to the extent that they’re not, I am ready to make sure I advocate for workers at Amazon and workers at any company in Holyoke and beyond that.”

Morse also disapproved of the company’s interactions with ICE, adding that he will continue to vocally support workers’ rights to unionize and Holyoke’s role in protecting immigrants.

“Amazon’s existence in Holyoke as a distribution center doesn’t change anything,” he said in regard to such issues. 

Bookbinder advocated for “creating an avenue for the workers to organize” as a union as “the only way to fully ensure the community is going to benefit” from Amazon’s new distribution center. 

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com. 


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