Open Letter to Pitzer Community on ties to Amazon

This letter was written as an assignment for the CASA Pitzer Program.

Dear President Melvin Oliver, the Board of Trustees, and the Pitzer Community, 

Pitzer’s core value of Social Responsibility states that “students spend four years examining the ethical implications of knowledge and individual responsibility in making the world better. They learn to evaluate the impact of individual and collective actions manifested in social and political policies.” With this in mind, we urge students to divest from Amazon, demand the removal of Pitzer’s Amazon locker “Lizzie,” and ask for a statement of support to the San Bernardino Airport Communities Coalition community benefits agreement. Amazon’s exploitative practices are well-documented and should come as no surprise to the Pitzer community. Those employed by ‘fulfillment centers,’ Amazon’s euphemism for warehouses, are paid unlivable wages, are emotionally abused by supervisors and are expected to work at speeds that lead to hospitalization, unacceptable health concerns, and even death. As Pitzer states in its community values, “values are mere words until we practice them. We expect to see them evidenced, hear them named, debate their integrity, and demand change on their behalf.” Amazon’s locker, sitting at the heart of our campus, is therefore a glaring sign of our hypocrisy and a sign of our failure as a community. 

We understand that the Amazon Locker exists to meet student demands and significantly reduces the amount of work the mailroom staff have to do. According to Dan Hirsch, an average of 100 to 125 Amazon packages are delivered to the mailroom each day, and the quantity increases to 350 to 500 packages daily during the beginning of a new semester or the holidays. This rate of consumption is not acceptable, especially given the small size of our community. We realize that a full dissent against Amazon as a community, oriented around social justice, is necessary before the removal of the locker is possible, which is why we are also urging students to divest from Amazon.

San Bernardino County and Riverside County, Pitzer’s neighbors, are the warehouse empire of the United States. Warehouses employ more than 100,000 people in over 300 warehouses in the region. As many as 30% of these workers move from job to job with little stability, no benefits and are forced to “consistently…. fight to keep their employment”. Workers have disclosed working conditions to the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, a worker rights non-profit based in the Inland Empire. One worker was forced to walk 15 to 20 miles a day. In fact, work was so physically demanding that after only working there for a week, the majority of her toenails had fallen off. Another noted instances of wage theft, and referred to the Amazon warehouses as “hell” and something she would “never wish on her worst enemy.”

The proliferation of these warehouses harms not only those directly employed, but also entire communities. Community members have reported acute bronchitis, asthma and chronic coughing. In fact, Fontana resident Mary Anita Valdepeña, who lives next to a warehouse, told the LA Times, “You want to know about warehouses? They ruined my life.” Warehouses are now moving closer and closer to homes, despite various health warnings from state air quality officials about harmful truck pollution. State officials have failed to reign in the growth of warehouses, earning the mayor of Fontana, Acquenetta Warren, the nickname “Warehouse Warren.” Amazon has also been criticized for its ties to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Our institution and community cannot continue to be complicit, especially given that Amazon plans to further hurt our communities and the environment. It is rumored that Eastgate, the new 750,000 sq. foot air cargo logistics center that the San Bernardino International Airport approved, will be leased to Amazon. This would “expose children and the elderly to an increased risk of asthma and lung disease,” “add 500 additional truck trips to our streets,” “add to the worst air quality in the nation,” and “create dead-end jobs at another rumored Amazon facility.” The San Bernardino Airport Communities Coalition is fighting for a community benefits agreement that would create well-defined and legally-enforceable goals, mitigating the worst impacts the Eastgate expansion would bring about. Pitzer College’s support of the community benefits agreement can help lead to real change in the Inland Empire. 

In community,

Sophia Rosse and Maria Hernandez

Maria Hernandez PZ ‘22 is a Political Studies major from Cartagena, Colombia. 

Sophia Rosse PZ ‘22 is a Sociology major from Boston, Massachusetts.

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