New York, NY – Online retail giant Amazon.com has a notorious record of “mistreating and dehumanizing workers” in some 16 countries around the globe — and if you turn a blind eye to it, you should forget about calling yourself “pro-labor.”
That’s the scathing message the head of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] delivered Wednesday morning ahead of City Council hearings on the $3 billion deal to construct a new Amazon headquarters in Long Island City, Queens.
“Nobody can call themselves ‘progressive’ or ‘pro-worker’ or ‘pro-union’ if they accept or ignore Amazon’s behavior,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told a large contingent of staunch Amazon critics assembled on the steps of City Hall this week.
“Nobody can call themselves ‘progressive’ or ‘pro-worker’ or ‘pro-union’ if they accept or ignore Amazon’s behavior — RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum
The head of the 60,000-plus member RWDSU said Amazon is well-documented as “one of the most anti-worker, anti-union companies in the United States and around the world — controlled by the planet’s wealthiest person [Jeff Bezos].”
“Amazon workers is Germany, in Italy and in Spain, have gone on strike and demonstrated,” Appelbaum said. “In Great Britain, they’ve all been speaking out, striking and demonstrating… Amazon’s business model is based on receiving tax payer subsidies, paying little or no taxes, and mistreating and dehumanizing its workers. And that is unacceptable.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio rocked the Empire State last month, when they announced a blockbuster deal worth $3 billion in taxpayer subsides had been struck to bring Amazon’s “HQ2” to the Big Apple.
“The governor and the mayor conspired with the richest man in the world for the biggest corporate giveaway, and they did it in secret and they tried to shut everyone out of this deal,” Queens City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer [D-District 26] told demonstrators. “Amazon is a company that has a record with respect to its workers that everyone should be concerned about. When workers are abused, all of us are abused. When workers’ rights are taken away, all of our rights are taken away. This is a union city. And when the mayor and the governor conspire with the richest man in the world to support anti-union employers, that is on them, too.”
Amazon is a company that has a record with respect to its workers that everyone should be concerned about.– City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer
Two weeks ago, Appelbaum was in London meeting with a global alliance of labor unions and worker advocates born out of their collective “outrage at how Amazon lowered even low standards on the treatment of workers.”
“We were told by the union in Great Britain that in the last three years, in England alone, there have been over 600 ambulance calls to Amazon facilities. People have died, miscarriages, taken away because of exhaustion. The richest man in the world can do better. And it’s incumbent on our elected officials to say, if you want to be here, you must do better. There is no excuse for exempting Amazon.”
The Amazon HQ2 deal is further raising hackles because, like other mega-developments before it that politicos have sought to realize without too much public fuss — is avoiding ULURP — or the Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure — a process, which, ostensively gives community stakeholders greater input on proposed developments.
“We, as a city, have not many any decisions about bringing Amazon here,” ALIGN Executive Director Maritza Silva-Farrell said. “Our mayor, our governor made decisions for us — that’s undemocratic.”
To get its hands on the $3 billion in public subsidies Cuomo and de Blasio have offered up to corporate boss Jeff Bezos, Amazon has promised to conjure up anywhere between 25,000 to 40,000 new jobs over the next 15 years.
At Wednesday’s hearings, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson [D-District 3], challenged New York City Economic Development CEO and President James Patchett about the “jobs threshold” for foregoing ULURP — while also saying it seems that the decision to avoid ULURP was made “from the outset.”
Patchett, however, insisted that pushing Amazon’s HQ2 in Queens through something called a Community Advisory Council and a General Project Plan [GPP] is “by no means an attempt to deliberately circumvent the ULURP process.”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer blasted the Amazon HQ2 deal saying, “$3 billion in public money cannot be handed out under a veil of secrecy” and that “New Yorkers should be outraged by this today.”
“What do the people get? And what are the workers going to get?” the city’s chief financial officer said. “Where’s the labor agreement? Where’s the help for Queensbridge Houses? This [city] council should have had the opportunity to review — we should have had a ULURP process.”
Appelbaum’s opposition to the Amazon HQ puts him at odds with the New York City Building and Construction Trades Council, which supports the development plan.
In November, BCTC President Gary LaBarbera issued a statement saying, “We look forward to working closely with Amazon and the community to ensure that the project includes good middle class construction jobs with benefits and high quality permanent jobs.”
Members of the Building Trades who spoke to LaborPress this week, however, expressed some concern about being asked to support the proposed Amazon HQ2 plan.
“I can understand why members of the other unions will support this kind of deal especially when you have a company like Amazon that understands very well what are the tactics in terms of divide and conquer,” Silva-Farrell told LaborPress. “I think the Labor Movement here in New York City is strong and despite the positions we have to take sometimes that might be different, we continue to be strong. What we are looking to do here, specifically in our campaign, is to ensure that all workers are protected across the supply chain, across all the platforms that Amazon provides jobs.”
As the “richest man in the world,” Appelbaum said that Jeff Bezos can do better.
“And it’s incumbent on our elected officials to say, if you want to be here — you must do better. If you want to be welcomed in New York — you have to change your ways. Amazon — respect workers, respect communities.”