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Inside Amazon’s Great St. Valentine’s Day Kiss-Off

February 15, 2019

By Joe Maniscalco

New York, NY – This Valentine’s Day, Amazon proved something many have always known —  Jeff Bezos and Co. love corporate welfare…but they hate organized labor and worker solidarity even more. 

Once under scrutiny, it didn’t take long for Amazon’s “HQ2” scheme to fall apart.

 

Already, so much of the talk immediately surrounding Amazon’s abrupt decision to abandon plans for a glittering new corporate HQ in Long Island City, Queens, is all about how New York City just blew the chance to secure thousands of great new jobs. 

In reality, it was Amazon’s deal to blow all along.

Clearly, all Amazon had to do to successfully plant its flag in the “Greatest City in the World,” was agree to start coming to the bargaining table and pay its workforce union wages and benefits. But the Amazonian overlords couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

All Amazon had to do was realize that New York City truly is a Union Town, and that working men and women here would not tolerate having their right to organize trampled. But, of course, Amazon couldn’t do it.

Even when two of their staunchest and most powerful critics within New York’s House of Labor made it clear, all Amazon had to do was abandon patently anti-union, anti-worker policies and the welcome mat would be rolled out — the giant online octopus still could not do it.

Conceding power to working people is anathema to the corporate class — and Amazon in particular. So, they could not do it. Jeff Bezos, instead, is collecting his ball and going someplace else.

“Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns that have been raised by many New Yorkers Amazon says you do it our way or not at all, we will not even consider the concerns of New Yorkers – that’s not what a responsible business would do,” Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] Director of Communications Chelsea Connor said in a statement following Amazon’s announcement.

George Miranda, president of Teamsters Joint Council 16 issued a statement saying  that “New Yorkers made it clear that Amazon wasn’t welcome in our city if it would not respect our workers and our communities.”

“Apparently, the company decided that was too much to ask,” Miranda said. “We are committed to fighting for the rights of workers throughout the Amazon supply chain and supporting their demand for a voice on the job.”

New Yorkers made it clear that Amazon wasn’t welcome in our city if it would not respect our workers and our communities – apparently, the company decided that was too much to ask. — Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda

Indeed, Amazon may be “disappointed to have reached this conclusion,” but worker advocates who refuse to settle for the kind of junk jobs that have become commonplace since the Great Recession of 2007, are cheering what they see as a real blow against corporate rapaciousness that’s a long time coming. 

“We are fighting for economic justice,” ALIGN Executive Director Maritza Silva-Farrell said following the announcement Amazon was pulling the plug on “HQ2” in New York City. “We are fighting to ensure that workers are protected, which Amazon does not do. We will continue fighting this corporation, in solidarity with workers across the country.”

Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer [D-26th District ] said “We are proud that we fought for our values. Our values in NYC are to defend working men and women, and their right to organize.”

NYC-DSA Tech Action — the group helping to raise awareness inside the tech industry about Amazon’s anti-worker and anti-union policies — issued a statement saying, “New York’s working class showed that big business and billionaires can’t buy our city. New York belongs to the many, not the few.”

“NYC-DSA Tech Action is proud to have played a part in that fight, and wish to commend all tech workers who stood in solidarity with our neighbors to stop Amazon’s plan to subvert democracy, and take billions in public money, as they crack down on unions and workers’ rights, increase deportations of our immigrant neighbors, and fuel gentrification, housing speculation, and skyrocketing rents,” the group said in a statement.

Council Member Jumaane Williams [D-45th District], a candidate for NYC public advocate in the February 26, special election, issued a statement saying, “Amazon never wanted meaningful engagement, and could not sustain the disinfectant of sunlight.”

“A backroom deal between the Mayor, Governor and Bezos to give away $3 billion in tax incentives and a helipad, with questionable jobs and loss of Land Use powers were never the answer,” the Brooklyn legislator said. “We should take pride that true people power forced powerful men to buckle- including those who didn’t understand that they represent the people, but are not the people.”

Teamsters join members of RWDSU and other worker advocates denouncing Amazon “HQ2” on the City Hall steps in January.

Amazon’s decision to scrap its plans and walk away from $3 million in taxpayer subsidies is also reenergizing progressive reformers who see the retail giant as merely the very obvious tip of a much deeper iceberg. 

“Oh, we are just beginning!!!” former New York gubernatorial and attorney general contender Zephyr Teachout Tweeted on Valentine’s Day. “Now let’s get a Congressional hearing on Amazon, labor, ICE, monopsony, how and why to break up Amazon. I know some people ready to testify.”

Firebrand Nomiki Konst, a journalist and activist who is also running for NYC public advocate on February 26, Tweeted this: “Now that we’ve taken on (and won) blocking Amazon corporate welfare, can we do the same with real estate developers who have starved NYC of the resources to sustain itself?”

The pact that Amazon initially concocted with Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio accompanied support from within New York’s House of Labor. Both the Building and Construction Trades Council and SEIU 32BJ strongly advocated for Amazon “HQ2.”

Building Trades leader Gary LaBarbera issued a statement expressing shock over Amazon’s decision to pull out of Queens, while also adding a rebuke of elected officials who opposed the plan. 

“Politics and pandering have won out over a once-in-a-generation investment in New York City’s economy, bringing with it tens of thousands of solid middle class jobs,” LaBarbera said. “This sends the wrong message to businesses all over the world looking to call New York home. Who will want to come now? We will remember which legislators forgot about us and this opportunity.”

Although, Amazon “HQ2” scheme put New York labor unions on opposite sides of the issue, Miranda and others have insisted that the House of Labor has remained united throughout the whole controversy. Any  split, they say, was just a matter of strategy.  

SEIU 32BJ President Héctor Figueroa called the demise of Amazon “HQ2” a “missed opportunity for labor to engage one of the largest companies in the world and to create a pathway to union representation for one of the largest groups of predominantly non-union workers in our country.”

“We remain supportive of the many efforts to unionize workers in New York, where Amazon will still have thousands of yet-to-be unionized employees who could benefit from union wages, benefits and representation,” Figueroa said in a statement. “Union jobs remain the most effective pathway to the middle class for working people in America.”

Mayor de Blasio issued his own Tweet on Valentine’s Day clearly putting the onus on Amazon for blowing its chance to bring “HQ2” to New York City. 

We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity. — NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio

“You have to be tough t make it in New York City, “ the mayor said. “We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity.” 

Governor Cuomo, meanwhile, appeared to echo Amazon in blaming “a small group [of] politicians [who] put their own narrow political interests above their community.”

“The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage. They should be held accountable for this lost economic opportunity,” the governor said in a statement. 

With New York City now seemingly out of the picture, Amazon says it will concentrate on building additional headquarters down south. But they may find their anti-worker and anti-union policies could trip them up there, as well. 

“Congratulations to the people of New York on cancelling the massive Amazon gentrification plan,” Virginia House of Delegates Member Lee J. Carter tweeted on Valentine’s Day. “I ask for solidarity and support as the people of Northern Virginia fight for our own futures as well.”

February 15, 2019

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