Senators' Proposed Warehouse Safety Bill Opposed By Industry Groups

Senators’ Proposed Warehouse Safety Bill Opposed By Industry Groups

Amazon once again finds itself the target of government action that seeks to address working conditions in its warehouses and fulfillment centers. And in Los Angeles and the adjoining Inland Empire, a once booming warehouse market has shrunk due to market contraction, with higher vacancy rates putting operators in the red. Here’s more on those stories as well as others that are making headlines in logistics and supply chain.

Proposed Warehouse Worker Safety Act Targets Amazon

A warehouse safety bill that would require companies to inform workers about warehouse quotas is facing opposition from industry groups who say it would unfairly hold them accountable for injuries outside the workplace. And Amazon is once again in the crosshairs for its alleged dangerous working conditions.

The Warehouse Worker Protection Act, cosponsored by Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), would require companies to disclose data on individual productivity and prohibit quotas that cause workers to skip meal breaks, bathroom breaks or prayer periods. It would also authorize state officials to investigate companies for high injury rates. A new National Employment Law Project (NELP) report claims one in fifteen Amazon workers sustain injuries, adding the company represents 79% of large warehouse employment but 86% percent of all injuries. 

The National Retail Federation (NRF) argued that the imposition of OSHA ergonomic standards for repetitive motion work goes against a bipartisan 2001 law that permanently barred OSHA from doing so. The rationale at the time included “the impossibility of separating workers’ pain from away-from-work life activities, a lack of clear scientific evidence to support such a standard and the massive costs. There is no new rationale for undoing Congress’ prohibition, and NRF strongly opposes this bill.” The US Chamber of Commerce, in addition to opposing any ergonomic standard, said the law would “(give) unions a streamlined approach to organizing warehouses and denying employers their due process rights for certain OSHA citations.”

LA, Inland Empire Warehouse Vacancy Rates Hit Lows

The vacancy rate for warehouse space in the Los Angeles area has reached the highest level in a decade, as the oversupply that grew out of the pandemic e-commerce boom comes home to roost. According to a new report from commercial real estate brokerage Colliers as reported by Benzinga, the average warehouse vacancy rate in Los Angeles was 4.1% in Q1, up from 2.6% a year earlier. 

The situation is worse in the nearby Inland Empire, where the vacancy rate was 6.2% in Q1, the highest since 2013. The area has some of the most desirable warehouse space in the country, as the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach bring in a large percentage of US imported goods. Eager investors drove a development boom just as inflation choked the flow of trade and consumer spending, creating the inventory glut. This has caused rents to tumble, and vacancy rates to fall below the profit line. 

In other warehouse news, brokerage firm CBRE reported that retail and wholesale firms were the largest tenants of commercial/industrial space in 2023, supplanting 3PLs which held the title in 2023. Retail and wholesale deals made up 36% of all transactions last year. Overall leasing activity fell 15.8% in 2023, while rents increased 15.9%, compared to 25.1% in 2022. 

RXO, CH Robinson Point To Sequential Volume Gains

Freight forwarding and brokerage firm RXO chose to highlight some sequential improvements in its recent quarter, as there were more positive results there, FreightWaves reported. 

Revenue dropped from $1 billion in Q4 to $900 million in Q1, and the adjusted net loss was $4 million, vs. a $7 million gain. However, executives pointed to brokerage volume that grew 11% year over year and gross margins that improved in February, March, and April. Also, year-on-year declines in revenue per truckload have been narrowing since Q2 of last year. 

Over at C.H. Robinson, analysts were satisfied with better-than-expected results. Truckload volume, CEO David Bozeman said truckload volumes have been outpacing indices for the past three quarters   

Truckbot Combines Picking Arm, Conveyor for Unloading, Putaway

Mujin Corp., the maker of industrial robots, has unveiled Truckbot, a nifty solution that combines a suction cup picking arm with a conveyor. It can grab cases from a truck, and move them to a facility’s inbound conveyor system for putaway. 

While robotic unloading and de-palletization solutions have been on the market for a few years, the conveyor piece is a differentiating factor by combining functions and adding efficiency. Truckbot was recognized as a 2024 RBR50 robotics innovation winner by The Robot Report.

Amazon Again Extends Imposition of Seller Fee for Low Inventory

Amazon has extended a grace period for a fee charged to sellers whose inventory falls below minimum levels, amid growing pushback from the community, Modern Retail reports. The fee went into effect on April 1, but sellers were promised they would be credited back through April 30. Now that moratorium has been extended to May 14. 

Observers say Amazon is looking to weed out smaller, less profitable sellers, as it battles newer entrants like Temu and Shein and looks for growth in areas like AI and advertising. The company is already facing heat from the Federal Trade Commission over its increases in seller fees, as well as a 2023 antitrust lawsuit.

Home Depot Goes With the FLOW

Being part of a public-private supply chain data-sharing program has helped Home Depot gain better insights into potential capacity crunches. Sarah Galica, VP of Transportation at Home Depot, told Supply Chain Dive it’s using data from the Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) platform to feed into its modeling for import volumes along various trade lanes. “If we’d had this information during the COVID crisis, we could have been able to potentially move to other ports or source from different areas,” Galicia said. 

FLOW is a Department of Transportation program that aggregates forward-looking supply chain data from shippers, carriers, drayage operators, and port authorities, among others, to help identify volume and capacity issues. It began providing insights to participants last year.

High Performance Doesn’t Have to Mean Compromising on Warehouse Worker Safety

While proposed legislation on warehouse worker safety seems tailor-made for Amazon, they wouldn’t be the only ones subject to its stricter provisions on production quotas and breaks. Whether or not it ever becomes law, it has spotlighted warehouse working conditions and how companies run their logistics and fulfillment operations. 

The rise in warehouse vacancy rates – 5.8% nationally in Q1, according to Cushman & Wakefield – is indicative of a cooling in demand. It points up the need for shippers to seek a 3PL partner that can flex along with market conditions and their evolving needs.

ShipBots, a comprehensive 3PL provider specializing in LA fulfillment, can deftly handle every facet of your eCommerce fulfillment process. From order picking, packing, and dispatch to inventory management and customer returns, ShipBots orchestrates a tailored fulfillment solution aligned with your unique needs. Our flexible, no-contract approach means no hidden fees or penalties for e-merchants. While we operate at a high level, with fast order processing and delivery, it’s never at the expense of our valued associates or their health and well-being. Get in touch for a free quote today!

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