Ama­zon isn’t go­ing to save lo­cal econ­omy

PressReader - Tke Channel - Ama­zon isn’t go­ing to save lo­cal econ­omy
When it comes to for­eign-owned mega­corps, this is a very friendly town. Build a big ware­house that will em­ploy 600 peo­ple at a wage 40 cents an hour over the min­i­mum, and you get the prime min­is­ter, a flock of MPs, var­i­ous pro­vin­cial cab­i­net min­is­ters, and sundry city coun­cil­lors to come out and cheer you on.That was the re­cep­tion we gave Ama­zon Mon­day at a sod-turn­ing for its east-end ware­house. A good-news an­nounce­ment al­ways draws politi­cians like flies, and this is a good news an­nounce­ment, mostly.Ottawa needs more jobs in the east end, and the Ama­zon project will pro­vide them. The ques­tion is, how ex­cited should we get?While Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment could have cre­ated the im­pres­sion that the new ware­house was quite a coup for Ottawa, it’s ac­tu­ally one of nine the re­tail gi­ant op­er­ates or is build­ing in Canada, and it’s not the big­gest. Still, it’s the largest in­dus­trial build­ing in the his­tory of Ottawa, which tells us quite a bit about Ottawa’s in­dus­trial his­tory.It’s a stretch to say that the bulk of the jobs Ama­zon’s new ware­house will pro­vide are those good, mid­dle-class jobs politi­cians are al­ways talk­ing about. A ware­house worker can earn just un­der $30,000 a year work­ing a 40-hour week. Coun. Steve Blais, a strong sup­porter of the project, ar­gues that if two of these work­ers were a cou­ple, then their com­bined in­come “would put you in the realm of the na­tional av­er­age.” Ac­tu­ally, still $10,000 un­der the me­dian house­hold in­come, but a job is a job.De­spite the high politi­cian-to-job ra­tio at this an­nounce­ment, the new jobs add up to less than 0.1 per cent of the to­tal jobs in Ottawa- Gatineau.Ad­just the ex­cite­ment me­ter ac­cord­ingly. Ama­zon’s crit­ics at­tack both the work­ing con­di­tions and the na­ture of the cor­po­ra­tion. It’s true that the company ex­pects peo­ple to work hard and meet quo­tas, but that’s not much of a crit­i­cism.This would seem like a ba­sic em­ploy­ment ex­pec­ta­tion. It’s called pro­duc­tiv­ity. If peo­ple don’t like the work­ing con­di­tions at Ama­zon, they don’t have to work there.That said, there is some­thing slightly un­seemly about Ama­zon chief Jeff Be­zos, the world’s rich­est man, driv­ing his work­ers as hard as he can for as lit­tle as they will ac­cept to show up. That’s cap­i­tal­ism in ac­tion, but it isn’t pretty. In the big­ger pic­ture, the Ama­zon ware­house here is un­likely to be the econ­omy-ex­pand­ing bless­ing it is be­ing de­picted as. While Ama­zon is cre­at­ing jobs, stud­ies else­where show Ama­zon hiring is only a par­tial re­place­ment for the jobs lost in tra­di­tional re­tail.Whether Ama­zon ben­e­fits com­mu­ni­ties de­pends on whether you value lo­cal busi­ness and face-to-face in­ter­ac­tions over key­board com­merce. With unem­ploy­ment in Ottawa at a 30-year low, Ama­zon hiring makes it tougher for lo­cal busi­nesses look­ing for work­ers. That’s good for work­ers, not so great for em­ploy­ers.While there are valid crit­i­cisms of Ama­zon’s busi­ness model, it is a suc­cess be­cause we con­sumers love the con­ve­nience and prices it of­fers. If we were re­pelled by the way Ama­zon op­er­ates, it would be out of busi­ness.Ama­zon will con­tinue to spread its ten­ta­cles around world com­merce.That’s hap­pen­ing whether or not Ottawa gets a crumb of the Ama­zon pie. By all means, let’s take our crumb but let’s not pre­tend it’s any­thing more.It is a bit sad to see our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers cheer an Ama­zon ware­house as if it were an ac­com­plish­ment of the high­est or­der. In what other coun­try do you get the na­tional leader to show up for a ware­house ground­break­ing ? It might have been jus­ti­fied if this had been the home of some ex­pand­ing Cana­dian company that was us­ing our tech­nol­ogy to sell goods to the world.In­stead, it’s a place for an Amer­i­can company to sort out the stuff we buy. You can’t build an econ­omy on that. As a coun­try, we need to aim higher.

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