Op-ed: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

In a world filled with instant gratification, personally tailored advertisements, and one-click shopping, it can be easy to overlook how our purchases impact others.

But our lack of knowledge is exactly what large corporations bank on. They profit from the customer’s ignorance and the allure of low prices and convenience. This manifests in the form of excessive online shopping, a problem overwhelming the Emerson mailroom.

When I first applied to work in the mailroom at the beginning of my freshman year, I figured it would be an easy job with flexible hours and would allow me to make enough money to cover my everyday expenses. I never could have imagined how students’ excessive online shopping could impact the workers, and how much worse this purchasing habit would get over the course of my college career. 

According to Collegiate Press, in 2009, the yearly incoming package count was 34,900. This number increased by 64 percent, reaching 54,138 packages, with the opening of 2 Boylston Place in 2017. 

The monthly average package count also increased. In 2018, the average package count per month sat at 4,608—up from under 3,000 packages in 2009. Since Little Building opened this August, the count has peaked at approximately 5,000 packages in only its first month. 

These numbers reflect the harsh reality me and the other workers in the mailroom experience six days a week. Whether it’s during a post-class rush, freshman move-in, or the start-of-semester-book-ordering fiascos, these statistics represent the repetitive logging of packages past closing hours by the full-time workers with families at home waiting for them. 

Dante Flores, a recent Emerson graduate and my former mailroom coworker, said the four years he worked in the mailroom helped him understand the unfair labor practices that molded his leftist political views. He said he watched the numbers of incoming packages increase throughout the years and felt the work environment becoming more stressful than when he first started the job.

“The rushes are heavier,” Flores said in a phone interview. “It feels like, longer too. I’ll never forget the day last year around this time where we had four student workers, some [temporary workers], and all three full-timers working around the clock and we were only barely keeping pace.” 

Not only are school mailroom workers affected by this increase, but also countless factory workers throughout the United States and the world. In a recent episode from The Daily, Amazon factory workers were interviewed to speak about their experiences on the line. 

Tasha Murrell, a warehouse employee, told The Times a woman died on the job but the manager said, “We still have to keep working, the customers want their stuff.” 

As the demand for speedier deliveries rises, the pressure on workers intensifies. When we click the “two-day” delivery option, we are expecting workers paid minimum wage with little to no benefits to assemble our purchase in near-impossible time. Then after, we expect mailroom workers to log these packages quicker because we have been led to believe we deserve instant gratification. 

Even more notably, these numbers represent the mindless yet growing consumerist nature Americans bathe in and refuse to recognize.

In order to be able to prepare for the opening of the Little Building, the mail staff had to move all packages for incoming freshmen into the new building due to lack of room in the Colonial location. This move took five days, which stole valuable time from workers’ other responsibilities like delivering letter mail and logging packages. 

As someone that deals with a lot of the customer relations, the backlog of packages from the move also resulted in a lot of impatient, and often rude, interactions with students coming in to demand their mail. 

I have overheard students who puzzle over how many packages they ordered. Many even order items that are accessible in physical nearby stores. Not only does this confusion make my job more difficult, it also shows how deep the online shopping black hole goes. 

We are at the point in time where we would rather order toilet paper than walking down the street, and that scares me.

Speedy deliveries also come with a plethora of negative environmental impacts. According to the annual sustainability report from UPS, one of the biggest enablers of the e-commerce boom, the company emitted 13.8 million metric tons of CO2 while delivering 5.1 billion packages by ground and air in 2017. These numbers do not include the emissions from other major mail carriers like USPS, Amazon, or FedEx, nor the extracted resources used to package these goods.

I understand that change takes education and gradual habit-breaking, and I am not asking Emerson students to boycott online shopping entirely and immediately. However, I urge the student population to think before you purchase. 

Ask yourself: Can I find this item down the street? Do I need instant two-day delivery, or can I wait a little longer? Do I have to get this item off of Amazon? 

We brand ourselves as a student body of activists but fail to recognize the repercussions of our materialistic consumption. It is time we put our money where our mouth is, and stop excessive shopping online. 

The Beacon is committed to publishing letters to editor from readers like you. Let us know what you think about this op-ed in an email to letters@berkeleybeacon.com. All letters are reviewed for length and clarity. 

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