This week, Warehouse Workers for Justice released its new report “For Good Jobs & Clean Air: How a Just Transition to Zero Emission Vehicles Can Transform Warehousing,” which details the impact of the booming warehouse and logistics industry on Will County, Illinois (read the report here). Formerly a hub for manufacturing and the good union jobs that came with it, in recent years the county has seen major corporations like Amazon, Mars Candy and Walmart open warehouses in the area and its roads crowded by polluting trucks.
These companies have made record profits in the pandemic on the backs of workers who are fulfilling the 24/7 demands of an increasingly online culture, but the surrounding community is not seeing those profits. Using air-quality and truck data collected by WWJ volunteers and interviews with workers in the area, the report paints a picture of a community plagued by truck pollution (the report points out that Will County is in the 98th percentile of diesel-related negative health impacts) and the kind of low-quality, revolving-door jobs that corporations like Amazon are known for. The report names the “double jeopardy” Black and brown workers experience in enduring both toxic work environments and toxic air pollution in their communities (the report found that air quality is worse in majority Black and/or brown census-defined communities).
Things don’t have to be this way, especially as the urgent transition to electric vehicles creates an opportunity to normalize better labor standards. Jobs to Move America is pleased to see some of our shared priorities lifted up in the report:
1. Companies that receive public money must do public good. We are seeing a flurry of tax incentives go to electric vehicle manufactures to create good jobs and improve the communities they’re in. But we know from experience that this doesn’t always happen. In Alabama, billions of dollars in tax giveaways are given to corporations with little to no transparency and accountability in creating the jobs they’re supposed to. As WWJ’s report mentions, Amazon received massive tax breaks to build facilities in Joliet and ended up offering only “a revolving door of underpaying, unsustainable, and unsafe jobs.” Taxpayer-funded investments for private companies must be made conditional upon uplifting labor standards to create safe, family-sustaining, and stable union jobs for workers across the supply chain, including warehouse workers, port workers, truck drivers, and EV manufacturers. These companies should also offer pre-apprenticeships and registered apprenticeships that target BIPOC, women, the formerly incarcerated and other groups that face barriers to employment.
2. The procurement process should incentivize companies that commit to family-sustaining jobs and equitable hiring practices. Instead of going for the cheapest bidder, public agencies awarding contracts—such as transit agencies—should prioritize companies that make specific and binding commitments around job creation, job quality, equitable recruiting, and training workers who face systematic barriers to manufacturing employment. Community Benefits Agreements, legally binding agreements between private companies and communities that put these commitments in writing, and the US Employment Plan (USEP), JMA’s policy tool that bakes good job standards and equity into the procurement process, are two ways we can do this. JMA has negotiated five CBAs nationally to make sure manufacturers live up to their commitments to communities and workers.
The report mentions that the electric vehicle manufacturer Lion announced that it’s building its first U.S. facility in Joliet in Will County. The announcement garnered a lot of positive press, as it’s one of the first major manufacturers coming to Joliet in a long time, but the company has not yet publicly committed to creating quality jobs or putting in place fair hiring practices for the community—despite being approved for millions in state and local tax abatements. This is an excellent opportunity for a corporation to make good in a community that is rightfully skeptical after being treated as disposable by other global companies.
We believe all companies receiving public money need to make real, binding commitments to the communities where they set up shop. As the WWJ report says, “Residents carry immense expertise within their lived experiences, which translates to capacity for building out robust solutions that are the most effective plans for their communities.” These major companies should listen to community members and lead the way in modeling what a just transition to a green economy looks like.