NYC City Council Attacks Amazon as Anti-Union Ahead of Arrival
(Bloomberg) -- New York City Council members attacked Amazon.com Inc. executives and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration over the company’s resistance to a unionized workforce, as lawmakers continue to seek ways to force the retailing giant to provide more public benefits before it moves to the city.
At the second of four scheduled meetings on the subject, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer told Brian Huseman, Amazon vice president for public policy, that the company isn’t welcome in New York. At the same time, union members from the building trades packed the hearing to support the deal because it will bring construction jobs for them.
“Shame on you for coming to New York City” without pledging a neutral stance toward union organizing, Van Bramer said. “This is a union town, we support union workers in this city.”
Amazon has chosen Long Island City as one of two sites for a major expansion. The Seattle-based company plans to create thousands of highly-paid tech jobs over the next decade in its new location in Queens, but has faced backlash from local lawmakers and community groups who fear the influx could push out existing residents and add to crisis-level congestion on the subway.
Huseman said the city could expect workers averaging salaries of $150,000. The company has made an “outreach to small businesses,” and will limit its in-house food retail offerings so that workers would be encouraged to patronize local retailers for lunch, coffee and dinner.
Amazon can expect about $1.3 billion in city tax abatements and job-linked incentives -- part of a total $3 billion city-and-state package. De Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have touted the deal’s benefits: a $2.5 billion headquarters across the East River from Manhattan, and the prospect of 25,000 jobs by 2030, and as many as 40,000 within 25 years. The new office could bring as much as $29.5 billion in state and city tax revenue 25 years, officials say.
Van Bramer took the mayor to task on the union jobs. De Blasio, a Democrat who has courted union support throughout his political career, is traveling the U.S. trying to present himself as a spokesman for progressive causes.
“The mayor can spread the gospel of progressive values across the country but I believe it is this record-breaking act of corporate welfare that will define his mayoralty,” Van Bramer said.
In fact, the view among organized labor towards Amazon in New York is mixed. Construction jobs and building service workers will be unionized but not the Amazon office workers.
Teamsters Joint Council 16, which represents 120,000 workers in the New York City area and Puerto Rico, and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum, have organized opposition against it. Construction and building trade groups called the potential for about 1,300 new construction jobs a “win” for working- and middle-class families.
For all the posturing, the City Council has few tools that could actually kill the deal. Any of the parties could call off the plan with 60-days days notice, a provision in the agreement that Van Bramer said the mayor should use to win more concessions from the company. A $505 million state grant that’s part of the Amazon subsidy package requires unanimous approval of the state’s five-member Public Authorities Control Board, which oversees many capital spending projects and includes members appointed by the governor, the mayor and the state legislature.
Van Bramer said Amazon’s public relations blitz in the neighborhood isn’t working, and lambasted Amazon for spending “millions of dollars” on the campaign rather than using the money to help public schools.
“Opposition is only growing,” Van Bramer said. “Two-to-one my constituents have called telling me to keep fighting this deal. So that is what I will do.”
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