Amazon, already one of the largest private employers in the Chicago area, is about to start a hiring binge.
The retailer in September will begin filling 6,000 jobs it expects to create with the opening of south suburban hubs in Markham and Matteson. Hiring will start Sept. 10 and the loading docks are due to open around Oct. 10, said Tarun Aggarwal, general manager at Markham.
He said the facilities should ramp up to peak operations, with each capable of processing a million items per day, by late November. While the sites would be ready for the holiday rush, executives said ongoing demand will support job levels that are higher than Amazon’s estimate when it announced the facilities in mid-2020.
“As we scale and grow as a company, we want to make sure we are able to serve our customers more effectively,” Aggarwal said. He said more than 90% of the positions will be full time.
Amazon offers a minimum starting pay of $16 an hour, more for night shifts, and a full range of benefits starting from day one of employment. Aggarwal and Arthur Harrison, an operations manager at Markham, emphasized that Amazon jobs are career-oriented, with free training to enable workers to move to higher responsibilities.
Applicants are asked to start the process at Amazon.jobs.
Harrison cited his own example at the company, which he joined five years ago from the horse-racing industry in Lexington, Kentucky, hoping for a job to get him through a winter. “Leaders reached out to me and really let me know about the career path I could look forward to,” he said. He now has a senior role in charge of outbound traffic at Markham and recently helped the company open in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“It’s been life-changing for me, the opportunities I’ve had with this company,” he said.
Others have a dimmer view of life at Amazon. Critics include an independent employee group in the Chicago area that has argued for higher pay, more staffing to improve safety and scheduling that promotes a better work-life balance. The company has said it works to address employee concerns and that the ad hoc group does not represent all workers.
Unions have targeted Amazon with organizing drives. The labor movement suffered a blow when Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, rejected union membership by a 2-to-1 ratio. However, a hearing officer for the National Labor Relations Board has ruled there should be another vote, citing company interference in the election. The federal agency is reviewing that recommendation.
The Teamsters have declared Amazon as an organizing target, saying it is undercutting traditional pay and benefits in factory and truck-driving jobs.
Amazon prefers to compare itself to the retail business, where it says its compensation makes it a leader. “We would challenge anyone to go out and compare [us] with what other retailers, other companies have to offer,” Aggarwal said. He added, “We want people to see Amazon as a leading employer and as an employer of choice.”
Concerning union issues, Aggarwal said, “We do not believe that we need a third party to highlight any concerns, anything that associates have.” He said managers have an open-door policy for hearing worker complaints.
The company counts 36,000 full- and part-time jobs in Illinois and says its investment in the state, including employee compensation, exceeds $14 billion.
The company said it has 20 fulfillment or sorting centers in Illinois, most in or near the Chicago area, and 20 delivery stations. The company has branched out into brick-and-mortar retail, with its 28 Whole Foods Markets and 5 Amazon Go locations in Illinois.
Amazon calls the new facilities at 7001 Vollmer Road in Matteson and 15924 Western Ave. in Markham fulfillment centers. It applies the term to major hubs, which in turn service smaller delivery stations where packages get sent to their destinations.
The facilities could have an impact on unemployment levels in the southern suburbs. Amazon spokesman Caitlin Polochak said company surveys have shown that about 45% of new hires were previously jobless.
She said employees cite good pay and predictable schedules as reasons they chose Amazon. More are staying because of the potential for career advancement, Polochak said.
Aggarwal and Harrison said Amazon has been welcomed in the southern suburbs. The company has supported local food banks and donated back-to-school kits. “The general excitement when we are out in the community … it’s all been very positive interactions,” Harrison said.