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By Jennifer Smith
A labor clash is brewing at a Target Corp. warehouse in New Jersey where the retailer is testing a new approach to distribution.
A union representing warehouse workers in the state is trying to organize employees at a Perth Amboy distribution center. The labor group says that Target is treating its staff poorly and that the retailer has launched an anti-union campaign to block the effort. Target says it has created "a safe working environment of mutual trust" as the company faces potential new complications at a site that is part of a multibillion-dollar effort to retool its operations to meet changing e-commerce sales demands.
Target has been using the 718,000-square-foot "flow center" to test a strategy aimed at using smaller, more frequent shipments to restock nearby stores and at better integrating its distribution and online fulfillment.
The warehouse, within a short drive of both the enormous New York City-area consumer market and the big container terminals of the Port of New York and New Jersey, is one of many that retailers and logistics companies are adding as they shift warehouse space closer to urban areas around the country to speed up final delivery of goods to online customers.
The push closer to cities is bringing new challenges for logistics operations that typically have been placed in relatively remote locations.
The land near cities is more expensive, residents in various communities have pushed back against the increasing truck traffic in more congested areas, and the sites near traditional union strongholds have drawn attention from organized labor.
Warehouses tend to have a high rate of employee turnover and often rely on temporary workers who can be challenging to organize. But in recent years unions including the Teamsters have been calling attention to what they say are difficult conditions for workers at e-commerce and industrial distribution sites.
Disagreements with New York politicians and labor groups over Amazon.com Inc.'s stance on organized labor contributed to the online giant's decision last year to drop plans for a second corporate headquarters in New York City. A national union's efforts to organize workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island haven't yet resulted in a collective bargaining agreement.
New Jersey has seen a boom in warehouse development as Amazon and others open sprawling fulfillment sites, often with the encouragement of local officials and economic development agencies. Online luxury consignment marketplace the RealReal Inc. opened a warehouse in Perth Amboy last year, its second in the state, and Home Depot Inc. is planning a facility in the city.
Efforts to organize 450 to 500 workers at the Target site in Perth Amboy began last year and drew pushback from company management, which held meetings with employees "to urge them not to speak with us and to create a climate of fear around organizing," said Megan Chambers, co-manager of the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
Some workers in Perth Amboy have complained of difficult working conditions, the union said, including heavy production quotas, long shifts and unfair scheduling practices, such as the requirement that they keep some days open in case they get called in to work.
A Target spokeswoman said the company has "a long history of investing in our team and creating a safe work environment of mutual trust where our team members don't want or need union representation. We're aware that this group has been contacting Target team members in Perth Amboy, and we've consistently heard from our team that they're not interested in being represented by this union."
Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz and the labor group said Target is violating the spirit of a 2017 tax-abatement agreement between the city and the developer of the industrial park where the distribution center is located. That agreement encouraged the developer to seek out tenants that "strive to create harmony in the labor force."
The city welcomes investments from big companies attracted to the city's location, Ms. Diaz said. "But at the same time, give our residents and the people working at those facilities the opportunity to be represented, " she said. "It's a lot of hard work...in that type of environment. If they have complaints, who can they really go to?"
Write to Jennifer Smith at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 19, 2020 16:44 ET (21:44 GMT)
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