San Francisco introduced legislation on Tuesday that would place an 18-month moratorium on parcel delivery facilities in the city, a move specifically designed to slow down and investigate Amazon’s rapid expansion of its last-mile delivery operations in the city.
If passed, the legislation would be the first of its kind in a major metropolitan area in the United States to put a moratorium on Amazon warehouses, and lay a foundation for other cities looking to have a say in how Amazon operates in their communities. The bill is expected to pass unanimously, according to those familiar with the legislation.
“Cities are saying we have to push back against companies like Amazon,” said Shamann Walton, the president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors whose district is the site of several new Amazon warehouse developments. “My hope is that with this legislation we’re able to make Amazon be a responsible employer and make them have conversations with the community. If that doesn’t happen then they won’t get the opportunity to do business here in San Francisco.”
The bill would impose “zoning controls” on the approval of all new parcel delivery service facilities to “allow time for” an investigation on how these facilities impact the communities they operate in, and to establish regulations “to encourage development which provides substantial net benefits and minimizes undesirable consequences.”
In particular, the legislation is intended to give communities in San Francisco the chance to push back against low-paying jobs, pollution, and traffic congestion that Amazon brings into the city. Activists who are worried about Amazon's expansion say that land being used to build more Amazon warehouses could be better used for green space or affordable housing in cities like San Francisco, which are suffering from a decades-long housing crisis and that new jobs should pay workers high enough wages to be able to live in the city.
Although Amazon’s name does not appear in the legislation or resolution, the bill’s proponents told Motherboard it is specifically designed to force Amazon to slow down its expansion into the city.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We want Amazon to pause and have a dialogue with the community, not just try to buy off groups,” said Jim Araby, the strategic campaigns director at UFCW Local 5, which represents 30,000 grocery store workers in northern California and has pushed for the bill. “If the bill passes, like any big project, the planning department will recommend mitigations for a job to be approved and Amazon will have to show the city how it will mitigate impacts, for example, by committing to all electric vehicles. That process, unlike the current one, will take two years instead of three to six months.”
Many of these fights, including the new push for legislation in San Francisco, are being led by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which launched a coordinated national effort, known as the Amazon Project, in May to unionize the e-commerce giant which it argues is dragging down working conditions across the logistics industry. In small towns and cities across the country, the Teamsters alongside other activists have been declaring victories in struggles to block Amazon warehouse plans and tax breaks. The moratorium bill would be a similar victory that they hope would have widespread impact.
Temporary moratoriums on warehouse facilities have passed in other, smaller California cities—and the bill’s backers—a group of labor, community, and environmental activists, expect the bill to pass unanimously in San Francisco.
“There’s concern from the board of supervisors about what happens when package delivery companies come in and pay $21 an hour with no retirement benefits, and flood the neighborhood with cars and trucks,” said Doug Bloch, the political director of Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represents UPS drivers in northern California.
UPS drivers, who are Teamsters union members in San Francisco, earn more $100,000 a year with pensions and healthcare benefits, Bloch noted. According to a town hall meeting led by Amazon in November, Amazon pledges to pay its San Francisco delivery drivers $21 an hour, and warehouse associates $17.25 an hour—less than a dollar more than San Francisco’s minimum wage of $16.32 an hour.
“As blue collar workers, we need to support each other, we need to raise standards. Amazon’s delivery drivers are getting paid far less than we do doing the same job,” said Philip Javier, a 32-year UPS employee who works and lives in San Francisco and earns $39.97 an hour. “I can still afford to live in this city I love because I have a union job.”
“We’re not against Amazon’s growth,” Bloch said, noting that Amazon packages fuel job growth for UPS drivers who are unionized. “But why should Teamsters make two times as much doing the same work for the same company as an Amazon subcontracted delivery driver? It’s about setting standards for a company that can afford to do the right thing for workers and communities and climate.”
During the pandemic, Amazon has rapidly expanded its last mile delivery station network in the United States in order to fulfill same-day and next-day deliveries. Delivery stations are Amazon’s smallest style warehouse and are often located in cities and suburbs, allowing the company to decrease the time it takes to deliver packages to areas with a high-density of Prime customers. Amazon already has three delivery stations in the city of San Francisco, and labor activists have tallied at least 28 Amazon delivery stations in the Bay Area.
There is also controversy over the San Francisco mayor’s office’s quiet agreement with Amazon to begin negotiating the terms of an Amazon delivery station in September at the site of a waste-management company formerly unionized with the Teamsters that could have been used to build 1,000 units of housing. The new legislation is accompanied by a resolution to put a hold on the planning for this Amazon project.
Walton, the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the city’s top legislative body, says that with this deal and others, Amazon so far “hasn’t shown respect to their neighbors” in the city. “If you bring in a big business and employ a lot of people who aren’t part of that community, you start pushing people out because you take over the area,” said Walton. “Where do these folks have to go? You move out people who are already in the area.”
The legislation was brought to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors by the San Francisco Southeast Alliance, a group of residents, environmental groups, and labor unions. The alliance formed in September to advocate against the pernicious effects of Amazon facilities moving into San Francisco.
“I believe this law will send a message to Amazon in general that San Francisco is a labor city,” said Joel Gonzalez, a produce clerk at Andronico’s supermarket in San Francisco and a member of UFCW local 648. “If you’re going to come here and build your warehouses, you must respect your workers and unions that respect their workers.”