Dubuque Amazon facility marks 1st holiday season

Employees at Dubuque’s Amazon delivery facility are marking their first busy holiday season nearly one year after the company launched local operations.

The Amazon warehouse at 7200 Chavenelle Road opened Jan. 12, serving as the final stop for packages to be sorted before being delivered to homes in the tri-state area.

Dubuque Amazon employees said the number of packages going through the warehouse began ramping up weeks ago for the facility’s first holiday season.

“We basically started Black Friday,” said Rob Gruber, area manager at the Dubuque facility. “Our volume went from about 8,000, 9,000 packages a day to around 11,000, 12,000 pretty much overnight. We’ve been pretty steady at the 11,000 mark throughout December so far.”

Gruber said the warehouse currently has a staff of 108 people, most of whom hold part-time positions. But the number of people working in the warehouse at a given time has increased to meet the holiday season demand.

“Staffing went from about 20 (people) to sort packages to around 35 (people),” he said. “We did some peak hiring in advance in anticipation of that, and we put more shifts out each day for people to work.”

Gruber said the number of inbound trucks at the facility has increased from two to four each morning, usually coming between midnight and 4 a.m.

Johannah Yeager, lead on road execution at the Dubuque facility, said employees begin coming into the warehouse at around 2:30 a.m. to start processing packages that come off the trucks.

The first wave of delivery vans then leaves the warehouse before 9 a.m., with a second wave departing at about 9:20 a.m., she said.

Those first two rounds of vans are driven by Delivery Service Partner drivers, who are contractors driving Amazon vans. Gruber said the Dubuque facility has about 60 of these drivers.

“Those drivers will be delivering about 9,000 packages a day, so they make up a majority of the delivery,” Yeager added.

An additional 2,000 packages per day are delivered by “flex” drivers who drive their own vehicles while delivering packages. Since Amazon’s busy holiday time began, the number of flex drivers has increased from about 45 to 70, Yeager said.

Those drivers leave in shifts starting at 10:30 a.m. until all of the day’s packages are out for delivery.

The Dubuque facility also increased its number of routes from 28 to 37 for the holidays.

“We deliver 60 miles in all directions,” Gruber said. “That’s our geographic boundaries, but we’re not quite out all 60 miles yet, especially going north. But we do deliver in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.”

The routes go as far as Lancaster in Wisconsin and Manchester and Cascade in Iowa. So far, drivers do not go much farther east than The Galena Territory in Illinois, Yeager said.

Gruber said all of Amazon’s drivers work from their cell phones, which direct them on routes and allow them to provide customers and Amazon employees real-time delivery information.

“In some of our connection-challenged areas, they can call us, and we can mark (that the package was delivered) for them,” he added.

Yeager said a main part of her job also is to ensure drivers stay safe while they are out on the road, a task even more important during inclement winter weather.

“We just try to really emphasize safety,” she said. “Maybe we will bring in extra drivers or have smaller routes. Delivering in the dark can be dangerous, as well. We really focus on getting things delivered on time and getting those packages delivered in the daylight when it’s still safe. If we do have major winter weather, there’s not much of a delay in that delivery. It just may be you couldn’t get (the package) until the next day.”

Gruber said the facility still plans on seeing about 10,000 packages per day for the next couple of weeks.

Since opening in January, the Dubuque site had seen more than 1.6 million packages go through its doors prior to the Christmas season, he said. It is anticipated that the facility will reach 2 million packages by the time the year is over.

“We’re not going to slow down much,” Yeager said of the post-holiday season. “We’re slowly growing. I think that’s the exciting part, that we’re delivering more and more and more.”