Inland Empire Warehouses

Riverside and San Bernardino counties have become a strategic link in the global supply chain. Above, Yolanda Guevara, who operates a cherry picker, fills an order at Pacific Mountain Logistics warehouse in Ontario. (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times)

By Chris Kirkham
April 17, 2015

Pilar Guzman has worked for five years in a warehouse that processes luggage arriving from China and bound for the likes of Wal-Mart, Macy’s and Kohl’s.

She’s made minimum wage for the entire stint and arrives each day not knowing whether she’ll get called into work the next. One recent day, she taped 12,000 cardboard boxes.

“The work is very repetitive, and people tend to get hurt,” she said in Spanish through a translator.

Guzman is on the front lines of the fastest-growing industry in one of the fastest-growing job markets in California: the Inland Empire. Once the poster child for the woes of the housing crash, the eastern spoke of the Los Angeles metro area has rebounded swiftly over the last two years.

The fastest-growing sector has been the logistics industry — the truck drivers, inventory managers and warehouse workers serving an increasingly global and digital economy.
Inland Empire job growth

The sector created 1 in 5 jobs in the Inland Empire last year. That figure doesn’t include the huge proportion of warehouse workers supplied by temporary employment agencies, which typically offer less job security and fewer benefits.

Other workers, like Guzman, are employed by contractors who can’t always offer full-time positions because of fluctuating demand from big retailers.

As trade volume at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has surged to near-record levels, Riverside and San Bernardino counties have become a strategic link in the global supply chain — an interior extension of the ports, a hub for goods traveling by truck and rail throughout California and the United States.

With ample, affordable land, the Inland Empire has in recent years given way to a real estate boom for mammoth warehouses, leased by giants such as Amazon.com, Home Depot and Nordstrom.

“For the industrial market, the Inland Empire is like office buildings in Manhattan,” said Joe Cesta, managing director of CBRE’s Ontario office. “It’s at the center of what happens.”

The rapid rise of e-commerce has put the Inland Empire at the leading edge of a retail revolution. The region’s warehouse workers have become the unseen store clerks of a one-click world.

A 2013 UC Riverside survey of warehouse workers found that about 60% of those employed at Southern California facilities worked for temp agencies, often with no health benefits and no guarantees of hours. The arrangement offers companies the flexibility to staff up or shed labor as demand fluctuates.

The temporary employment industry has grown jobs by 35% over the last five years in California, making it one of the state’s single fastest-growing industries. The logistics industry has been a major driver of that growth.

“We know this will bring jobs, but what kind of jobs?” said Jake Wilson, an associate professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and coauthor of “Getting the Goods,” which focuses on Southern California’s ports and logistics industry. “The vast majority of these workers are in very precarious working conditions.”

Staffing agencies operating in the Inland Empire include multinational, publicly traded companies such as TrueBlue Inc. as well as smaller companies serving mostly the local market.

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