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Business
Amazon delivery station opens; fulfillment center set to launch before holiday season in 2020, company says

A complement to a local fulfillment center under construction, Amazon has opened a 60,000-square-foot delivery station that employs hundreds of full- and part-time workers in southeast Tulsa, a company spokesperson said.

In operation since late summer, the leased site at 13510 E. 59th St. handles the last part of the company’s customer order process. Packages are shipped there from neighboring Amazon fulfillment and sorting centers and loaded into vehicles for delivery.

Amazon’s 600,000-square-foot fulfillment center being built at 4040 N. 125th East Ave. will create 1,500 full-time jobs and is expected to launch before the holiday season in 2020, the spokesperson said.

“We don’t have a specific date to share as there are a lot of factors to consider in the construction of a new fulfillment center such as weather that could impact the launch date,” the company representative wrote in an email.

Workers at Amazon’s distribution centers make at least $15 per hour. For more information about open positions, visit amazon.jobs.

Amazon operates more than 175 fulfillment centers around the world in more than 150 million square feet of space, the majority located across North America and Europe.

The e-commerce company last month reported a net sales increase of 24% for the third quarter, increasing from $56.6 billion to $70 billion over the same period last year.

Net earnings decreased from $2.9 billion to $2.1 billion in the third quarter.

“We are ramping up to make our 25th holiday season the best ever for Prime customers — with millions of products available for free one-day delivery,” Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, said last month in a statement.

“Customers love the transition of Prime from two days to one day; they’ve already ordered billions of items with free one-day delivery this year.

“It’s a big investment, and it’s the right long-term decision for customers. And although it’s counter-intuitive, the fastest delivery speeds generate the least carbon emissions because these products ship from fulfillment centers very close to the customer — it simply becomes impractical to use air or long ground routes.”


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Education
Tulsa school board approves average $2,084 raise for teachers

Tulsa Public Schools teachers will be receiving raises of $2,084 on average in the next school year.

The Board of Education approved the raises at Monday night’s meeting.

The district had been negotiating with the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association since July to reach an agreement on salaries for the 2019-20 school year.

Chief Talent and Learning Officer Devin Fletcher said that with pay-scale steps included, the average teacher will see a $2,084 raise. Every teacher will receive at least the $1,220 raise included in this year’s state budget, Fletcher said.

“Ninety-six percent of our teachers overwhelmingly voted to approve the ratification and it guarantees a starting salary of $40,000 for our teachers,” Fletcher said at the meeting. “It’s exciting and it helps us to maintain a competitive advantage with our surrounding districts.

“One of the things that the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association and the Tulsa Public Schools group wanted to ensure is that we’re honoring and valuing our educators. ... We tried to do everything we could to ensure we are creating an opportunity for our teachers to make more over the lifetime of their career.”

Area and suburban districts, including Broken Arrow, Jenks and Union, previously approved raises of at least $1,200 for their teachers. Negotiations between the district and TCTA had been ongoing and delayed in part with school coming back in session in the fall, but 2018’s $5,000 raise was not approved until October, either.

Fletcher said the raises have shifted the district’s pay scale considerably. Previously, the $45,000 mark sat just below step 15 on the pay scale, and Fletcher said it’s moved up to step 10 after the increase.

The agreement passed unanimously, and the board also approved salary adjustments for teachers hired before July 1 who are not covered by TCTA’s collective bargaining agreement.

Superintendent Deborah Gist said the district is pleased with the new contract and happy an agreement could be worked out. She said she hopes teachers and the community see that the district invested more into its teachers than expected by the state.

“It’s an important step,” Gist said. “We’re going to continue to advocate tirelessly at the state level to do more and more to make sure our salaries for our teachers and our support employees are more professionally competitive. We’re pleased we can take this step in the right direction.”

Gist said she hopes parents and the city at large see the raises as evidence of the district’s interest in its talent. But the district’s raises aren’t in a vacuum, and Gist said she wants to see the trend continue through backing for education at the Capitol.

“We heard from our community when we had the community meetings that this was a priority for them,” Gist said. “They want to be sure that teachers and others in our school system who are working with kids are appropriately compensated.

“We agree with that feedback and we’ve made these steps in the right direction. I would also say all of us need to continue the advocacy at the state level to make sure our state leaders know that our work is not finished.”


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State-and-regional
Oklahoma makes U.S. history with hundreds freed from prisons

TAFT — One detention officer high-fived Danni Roberts, and another told the 31-year-old how proud he was of her. Weighed down by a cardboard box of belongings but free from incarceration, she walked away from the women’s prison gates toward another chance.

“I’m not ever coming back here again ever,” Roberts told the detention officers. “I like y’all, OK? But I’m not ever coming back. Thank you. Thank you all.”

Roberts was one of hundreds of inmates freed from Oklahoma prisons on Monday with commuted sentences for drug and property crimes that are now misdemeanors under state law.

It is the single largest such action in U.S. history. Gov. Kevin Stitt had granted commutations to 527 inmates, and 462 of them were released Monday.

Roberts had doubled back to the gates of the Eddie Warrior Correctional Facility to pick up her belongings after serving three years of a 12-year term for drug possession within 1,000 feet of a school or park. She was among those who listened as Stitt encouraged the women being released to seek resources made available to them as a first step to lifelong success.

The governor pointed out that two dozen reentry fairs had been held in prisons across the state to help connect the inmates being released to social services and resources. Nonprofit organizations and churches offered support with finding employment, housing, education and other programs.

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Rita Parker is greeted by Gov. Kevin Stitt and his wife, Sarah Stitt, as Parker is released from the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center on Monday after her sentence was commuted. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Stitt challenged the women to be strong when confronted with any number of challenges in returning to society. The popularity of the reentry fairs shows that Oklahomans want to walk with them hand in hand starting on the first day of the rest of their lives, he said.

Awaiting the release of about 70 women, throngs of family members and friends were interspersed with local and national media representatives outside the prison’s chain-link fence. The sight overwhelmed some of the newly freed inmates and caught others off guard.

“I don’t know where to go,” Tess Harjo exclaimed while almost face to face with Stitt and his wife, who were among the first to greet the women. Laughter ensued, and the 28-year-old was shepherded to her two aunts and grandmother in the parking lot.

“I’m home; we’re going home,” Harjo said, tightly embracing each as if to make up for lost time while camera shutters clicked around them.

Harjo was sentenced to 10 years in March 2018 after she picked up a second possession of methamphetamine charge while on probation and in drug court for the first.

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Danni Roberts (left) and her sister, Sydney Roberts, leave the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center on Monday after Danni Roberts’ sentence was commuted. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

“I’ve done a lot of classes in here that help me figure out how to cope with certain things,” she said. “So I have a different mind-set now. I’ve seen people in here that have come back two, three, four times. So they’re telling me what they did and what I should not do, because they go back to the same people, places and things. And I’m trying to change that.”

In the moment of her release, it’s not surprising that Harjo was unsure where to go. She said she was unnerved by the long walk toward the exit, still harboring a surreal feeling as if she were only going out to the yard as part of her normal prison routine.

The structure of 22 months behind bars caused the freedom to make such a simple decision to feel unfamiliar. But her long-term path forward is clear: pursuing a career in communications through education at Connors State College, a program she began while in prison.

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Tess Harjo (left) is greeted by her grandmother, Sally Taylor, as Harjo is released from the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center on Monday. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Harjo, who will live with her family in Henryetta, applauded those who made her release a reality.

“It just shows that there’s still some really good people out there that understand that we’re humans, too,” she said. “We have made a mistake, and … the things that we went through, they’re fixable. We made some bad decisions.”

Several families showed up an hour or more in advance of Monday afternoon’s mass release.

Tina Martin, 32, had been looking at nine more years in prison for drug possession within 1,000 feet of a school in Delaware County. So her parents, Gaye and Ty Martin, didn’t mind the wait.

They said she had been doing well with her education and work before this incarceration but had periodic relapses without enough social support near their home in Kansas, Oklahoma. But she failed multiple drug tests while on community sentencing and ended up behind bars a second time, serving about 18 months until Monday.

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Tess Harjo (right) is greeted by her aunt Sarah Taylor as she is released Monday from the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center after her sentence was commuted. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

“At the time, they didn’t have a whole lot of rehabilitation services,” Gaye Martin said. “And if you did, you either had to have insurance or like $15,000 or something stupid like that.”

Ty Martin said his daughter’s struggles and time incarcerated changed his viewpoint, now believing prison should be restorative and not just punitive. And it’s still difficult for anyone branded a felon in Oklahoma to thrive or even survive in the real world, he said.

They are thankful for the newfound opportunity for their daughter and are hopeful that more reforms are in the pipeline.

“I’d just hate to see anybody else go through this,” Ty Martin said.

Oklahoma makes U.S. history with hundreds freed from prisons