Amazon prepares its rapid response with new center in West Humboldt Park

Monday, the company will post job openings for the facility at 1260 N. Kostner Ave., which is expected to open in September, focusing on items “that people want and need in a hurry.”

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Los trabajadores preparan las nuevas instalaciones de Amazon en West Humboldt Park, diseñadas para pedidos rápidos.

Workers prepare the new Amazon facility in West Humboldt Park that’s designed for quick-turnaround orders.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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In West Humboldt Park, the physical result of that 21st century human need will soon be born, with Amazon applying final touches to its new facility at 1260 N. Kostner Ave.

It will start posting jobs for the facility Monday with hopes of scaling up employment so by this year’s Black Friday, 350 people will be working there.

Much equipment still has to arrive at the 140,000-square-foot building, which is hardly huge by Amazon standards but with a key job nonetheless. It is designed to receive, store and ship common household items that company algorithms know people want quickly. Think of it as Chicago’s repository for urgent orders of diapers, dog food, laundry detergent and toothbrushes.

“We’ll get it to you in four to eight hours, and we’ll give you a time” once you order, site leader Matt Hall said. “We’re trying to get items here that people want and need in a hurry.”

The building goes by the name SIL4. In Amazon-speak, the S stands for sub-same day delivery. IL is for Illinois, and 4 means it’s the fourth rapid-response center in the state, the others in Skokie, West Chicago and Country Club Hills.

Matt Hall, site leader for Amazon in West Humboldt Park, surveys the work being done ahead of the center’s opening.

Matt Hall, site leader for Amazon in West Humboldt Park, surveys the work being done ahead of the center’s opening.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

It will differ from Amazon’s more common delivery stations, its version of a post office. A box goes into a delivery station and is shipped out. Sub-same day delivery combines shipping and receiving with packing and inventory control.

Company executives said the combination means the work will have variety and Amazon will need people with skills in technology, management and logistics.

The building is due to open Sept. 27, with the first items out for delivery Oct. 11.

Its early days will amount to a dual test. Can it fulfill orders speedily? And can it fulfill community promises for local hiring and involvement?

The project, delayed during the pandemic and then reconfigured, drew criticism, none of it drawing blood from a corporation worth close to $1.4 trillion. Amazon, working with local groups and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), settled on an approach that keeps trucks and vans on busy Division Street. Many who live in the area would rather have Amazon nearby than the junkyard that used to be on the property.

Sarah Glavin, head of community affairs in Chicago for Amazon, said the facility’s sub-same-day setup reduces its daily traffic load compared with the standard delivery station. She said there will be fewer peak times, and the flow of trucks and vans will be more of a “quiet constant.”

Amazon’s hiring process starts online. The company has worked with community groups to help people who lack computer access. Among the organizations are Bethel New Life and Black Men United, both with offices nearby.

Glavin said Amazon has donated $200,000 to Project Exploration for grants going to 10 schools. Supporting education will help a facility that over time will need people with many skills, she said.

“We want to be a good neighbor,” Glavin said. “We want to make sure that folks in the neighborhood who are our customers also feel like this is part of the community.”

Sarah Glavin, Amazon’s head of community affairs for Chicago.

Sarah Glavin, Amazon’s head of community affairs for Chicago.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

“It’s great that they reached out,” said Ray King, a community outreach worker with the West Humboldt Park Development Council. “A lot of big franchises don’t do that.”

King said Amazon is setting up near family-owned small businesses that don’t do much hiring from the community.

Each week, the company plans to post full- and part-time positions for shifts covering 23 hours daily. Glavin said pay will start at $18.50 an hour, with benefits beginning Day 1 of employment. Tuition reimbursement for certain programs starts after 90 days.

Amazon has upped its pay and benefits as it tries to head off union organizing that, with some success, has targeted larger facilities in the United States and Europe. Its operations in the Chicago area haven’t been unionized.

The company has come under fire for harsh job conditions, so it has added worker-friendly features. In West Humboldt Park, employees will get a place for new moms and an all-faiths prayer room.

In the past week, the employee break room was still awaiting equipment, but an Atari Pac-Man console was ready for action.

In the vast space where items move around, workers are separated from robots that look like giant Roombas. The property has gotten hydrangeas now in bloom and saplings that somebody should water after the area’s hot spell.

La versión de los robots de Amazon, llamados “drives”, están listos para el servicio.

Amazon’s version of robots, called “drives,” are ready for duty at 1260 N. Kostner Ave.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Critics, who protested the facility as recently as Aug. 18, have had a strange approach to Amazon. Some have called the project environmental racism. Others called on Amazon to open sooner.

Mitts said the demands on Amazon were never clear and in her view, “It’s all about creating jobs.”

As for opponents, “They’re looking for something to hang onto,” she said.

The Amazon facility at 1260 N. Kostner Ave.

The Amazon facility at 1260 N. Kostner Ave.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

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