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World Logistics Center: Bad for Air, Won’t Bring High-Quality Jobs

A layer of smog hangs over the California city of Moreno Valley.

A layer of smog hangs over the California city of Moreno Valley.

Photo Courtesy of Arman Thanvir

Editor's note: This blog was originally published as a guest commentary for the San Bernadino County Sun. It was written by Sheheryar Kaoosji, the president of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, and Penny Newman, the executive director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice in the Inland Empire.

If the World Logistics Center is built as it is currently planned, the Inland Empire will be getting a terrible deal. The developer of this mega warehouse has spent years attempting to skirt environmental protections for the project, which means that measures usually in place to safeguard our health are simply not there. If this project goes through, we may be trading clean air for a false promise of quality jobs.

We can do better.

In a region that already suffers some of the worst air quality in the nation, we can expect to feel the weight of diesel soot in our lungs from the additional 14,000 truck trips that will rumble through the community every day to the World Logistics Center. Diesel is a cancer-causing toxin. In children, heavy, gray diesel soot can trigger wheezing asthma, leading to more trips to the emergency room as they struggle to catch their breath. In adults, air pollution can cause respiratory troubles, cancer and even heart problems.

The World Logistics Center is expected to bring 14,000 daily truck trips rumbling through the Inland Empire in California.
Rob Chambliss / Earthjustice

All of this is especially troubling because we’re already feeling the dire health problems brought by poor air quality. Shockingly, a recent study shows that an estimated 808 adults die in the Inland Empire every year due to bad air quality.

Many residents in Moreno Valley may be fatigued by the years-long battle over the World Logistics Center, which has entailed a ballot measure brought by the developer, as well as lawsuits from Riverside County, the air board, and numerous community voices. But these many battles are unfolding because there is so very much at stake for us.

Although we’ve been promised a slew of jobs by the developer, we have no guarantee the jobs at the World Logistics Center will be high-quality, secure jobs with a path to the middle class. Many jobs in the logistics industry are short-term positions that end before benefits can kick in, and the average pay for a warehouse job is $20,000 less than the average pay in California. There are precious few paths to advancement for workers hoping to find work that will sustain their livelihoods and offer important benefits to their families.

The developer of the World Logistics Center is planning a mega facility roughly the size of three Central Parks.
The developer of the World Logistics Center is planning a mega facility roughly the size of three Central Parks.

Even worse, new trends in the logistics industry are skewing heavily towards installing robotic labor instead of hiring people. New data released this month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that while new warehouses are surging in California, hiring in the industry is leveling off. Eighty-one new warehouses and storage locations have cropped up in the Golden State in the last year, while hiring slowed to 3 percent growth. Since 2014, Amazon has added more than 30,000 robots to its facilities. The developer of the World Logistics Center, Highland Fairview, built the Skechers warehouse in Moreno Valley in 2009, displacing more than a thousand workers in Ontario with a promise of new jobs. That warehouse has been heavily mechanized in the years since its development.

It would be a shame if our community were to make a trade-off of basic public health and clean air for new jobs that may be ultimately performed by machines and not people. In that case, the World Logistics Center would fail to bring much needed income and economic security to our local community.

We must not forget that the health impacts caused by dirty air bring economic harm to families and local businesses, with missed school days, missed work days and health care bills. These are real economic burdens for families in the area, and these burdens ripple out to local businesses and our entire community in the form of lost wages, lost educational opportunities and debt.

We’ve been offered a false choice between environmental protections for our health and jobs for our families. Community voices are not giving up because this means too much for our future. Cities like Moreno Valley must hold developers to high standards and guarantee a net positive for both community health and good, permanent jobs.

Poorly planned logistics centers are not the only path forward for the Inland Empire. Let’s instead invest in a brighter future that will benefit our community for decades to come.