Oct 19, 2018 - Technology

A doorman in the age of Amazon

Man stands on a threshold and holds a wooden door with glass panels open

On New York's Upper East Side. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty

For 21 years, Edgar Rodriguez has worked as the doorman at 115 Central Park West, a job requiring subtle courtesy and dapper dress. But in the last decade, his duties have been wholly upended.

Why it matters: The rise of Amazon has shaken up the U.S. and global economy. But it's done so in sometimes odd ways, all-but killing some centuries-old trades, like bookselling, while giving others — like the doorman — surprising second lives.

  • Once a summoner of taxis, watcher of small children, and keen vetter of visitors, Rodriguez now mostly spends his time on a single task — managing the safekeeping of a daily avalanche of Amazon deliveries.

The big picture: The Amazon effect on jobs has been two-sided. The e-commerce giant has added more that 250,000 jobs in the U.S. alone, but a whopping 12 million retail jobs are in jeopardy because of its rapid ascent, per MarketWatch. Amazon has also faced sharp criticism for the wages and working conditions of its tens of thousands of warehouse employees and truckers.

And those are just the employees on Amazon's payroll. The company is unleashing tectonic shifts across the working world:

  • Amazon has transformed the job of retail sales clerk. Thrown out of work by the shrinkage of Sears, Macy's, J.C. Penney and other retailers, thousands of salespeople have found jobs at Amazon and other e-commerce warehouses.
  • It has changed the job of shipper, who in the old days sent a truckload or two of inventory to a store once a week. Amazon Prime has made buyers expect their purchase delivered to their home — now.
  • The e-commerce giant has also been part of a wholesale change in retirement. Thousands of financially strapped older Americans have re-entered the workforce and become a transient workforce that travels the country, laboring a few weeks or months in one Amazon warehouse, a few weeks in another, and so on.

As Amazon grows larger and larger, "we don't quite know what the consequences are going to be, and it's going to touch things that we don't predict," said Joe Parilla of Brookings. "It's changing these corners of the labor market."

On a typical day, Rodriguez's 215-unit building, which employs a team of 10 doormen and a mail clerk, receives 160 packages.

  • In the month between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve, that jumps to 300 per day, he said. "It's really, really out of control."
  • The building put custom technology in place to scan and record the flood of packages that come in, said Rodriguez. Before, the doormen used to write out serial numbers by hand in a log book. "That alone took three hours."

Across New York, doormen juggle deliveries that pile up astoundingly high.

  • On the Upper East Side, at 72nd Street and 3rd Avenue, the 855-unit Wellesley apartment building had to hire two doormen specifically to direct a never-ending stream of delivery guys.
  • Waddit Cruz has been at 25 East 68th Street, a much smaller building of 75 units, for 10 years. He said he has to deal with some 60 packages a day.
  • As I was talking to Ian Vasquez, a doorman at 170 Amsterdam Avenue, he scanned through the 100th package of the day — at 3:30pm. "Some of the carriers haven't come yet," he said.

The other side: City-dwellers who live in converted townhouses or buildings without doormen order just as many packages — but they don't have someone to run the lobby-warehouse. That leads to some frustration.

  • A colleague who lives in a D.C. apartment without a doorman says that some days, the package buildup outside his door prevents him from leaving the building. He uses the side door to get out.
  • New York and D.C. colleagues told me that they've had packages stolen off the stoop of their homes.

The long view: The rise of new technologies has often shifted the burden of work, Jared Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, told Axios. Consider the ATM machine, which, after its invention in 1969, prompted us to withdraw our own cash, thus changing the job of teller.

Amazon is doing something similar, Bernstein said. "It's shifting work toward consumers, or, in the case of doormen, toward the people who work for consumers."

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