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Amazon Blinks In The Face of Worker Opposition – Or Does It?

New York, NY – Opponents of the heavily subsided plan to establish a new headquarters for in Long Island City, say, if, indeed, the contentious deal is falling apart, as reports suggest,  the online giant has only itself to blame.

Teamsters and other workers protest Amazon’s anti-unionism during a City Hall rally in January.

“A major problem is the way the deal was put together shrouded in secrecy and ignoring what New Yorkers want and need,” Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] President Stuart Appelbam said on Friday. “They arrogantly continue to refuse to meet with key stakeholders to address their concerns, despite requests from New York’s top elected officials to do so.” 

The RWDSU, along with Teamsters Joint Council 16, have teamed up and joined other worker advocates and community stakeholders who insist Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos must change their virulently anti-union, anti-worker ways if the corporation ever expects to be welcomed in NYC. 

“With their long history of abusing workers, partnering with ICE to aid their persecution of immigrant communities, and contributing to gentrification and a major housing crisis in their hometown of Seattle, New Yorkers are right to raise their concerns and opposition to this plan,” Appelbaum added. “New Yorkers won’t be bullied by Jeff Bezos, and if Amazon is unwilling to respect workers and communities they will never be welcome in New York City.” 

Miranda told LaborPress that New York needs companies “that are willing to engage with key stakeholders, respect workers and contribute to the success of our communities.”

“If a company the size of Amazon wants to come to New York City, it has to talk with the community, and that includes unions, community organizations and politicians. Their refusal to do so has put them in this situation,” the Teamsters JC 16 president said. “There are serious concerns over Amazon’s anti-worker behavior. Workers should be able to freely form a union without interference from their employer and Amazon won’t commit to that. If Amazon is unable to come to New York, it will only have itself to blame.”

If a company the size of Amazon wants to come to New York City, it has to talk with the community, and that includes unions, community organizations and politicians. Their refusal to do so has put them in this situation. — Teamsters JC 16 President George Miranda

New reports that Amazon might be reconsidering building a new headquarters in Queens, come just a week after the New York City Council treated corporate representatives to a blistering hearing on the $3 billion sweetheart deal initially hatched between Amazon, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

Cuomo reportedly freaked out upon learning Amazon supposedly has developed misgivings about setting up shop in LIC, going so far as to calling NY State Senate opposition to the $3 billion sweetheart deal, “governmental malpractice.”

Despite its professed aversion to unionizing its own workforce — both SEIU 32BJ’s property service workers and the city’s unionized building trades — stand to benefit from having a new Amazon HQ built in Long Island City. 

In response to news Amazon might be thinking about backing off the project, Gary LaBarbera, head of the Building and Construction Trades Council, issued a statement strongly supportive of the plan and dismissive of opponents. 

“New York needs a strong middle-class workforce with good-paying jobs, and that’s what Amazon will deliver,” LaBarbera said. “It’s time to stop the showboating and put the interests of our city ahead of politics and personal agendas.”

Hector Figueroa, president of SEIU 32BJ sent out a Tweet saying building “HQ2″ is better for working families than not building it.

” In NYC it will create good union construction & service jobs & other family sustaining jobs,” he said. “Labor has a better shot here than elsewhere at unionizing & improving conditions in Amazon warehouses & tech jobs.”

But could Amazon’s sudden kvetching about New York City just be a ploy to silence the opposition and ultimately get what it wants? 

On Friday, the New York City Central Labor Council tweeted this out: “One of the most common tactics in an anti-union campaign is to intimidate workers and silence their voices by threatening jobs.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union [UFCW] President Marc Perrone issued a statement saying, “It is outrageous that Amazon is now essentially threatening New York City taxpayers to pay for its new headquarters or else it will leave town.”

“Multibillion-dollar corporations and billionaires like Jeff Bezos should not be threatening New Yorkers or expect any American taxpayers to foot the bill for opening a new headquarters – whether it’s in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, or anywhere else,” the UFCW president declared. “Why should we subsidize the creation of 25,000 Amazon jobs when Amazon’s entire business model seeks to eliminate millions of retail jobs? The last thing we, as taxpayers, should ever be asked to pay for is the destruction of our own jobs.”

If Jeff Bezos and Amazon do decide New York City isn’t worth abandoning their anti-union ways — then good riddance to them, says the local Democratic Socialists of America [DSA] group helping to organize industry tech workers against corporate greed and rapaciousness.  

We welcome the news that Amazon is reconsidering, and once again encourage them to abandon their plan to bring their headquarters to Queens,” Will Luckman, co-organizer for the DSA’s Tech Action Working Group told LaborPress. “The people of New York are dedicated to the fight against Amazon’s expansion because labor violators, monopolists, and ICE contractors are not welcome here.”

Although touting this latest development in Amazon’s “HQ2” bid as a “testament to the power that communities have when they organize themselves,” Luckman also struck a note of caution, further suggesting that Amazon’s trepidation could, in fact, just be a ruse. 

“How seriously we can take this announcement—or whether it is just a threat to keep dissenting politicians in line, akin to those they used in Seattle to get City Council to repeal a tax Amazon didn’t want to pay—remains to be seen,” Luckman said. “We intend to keep the pressure on our representatives to stop them from wavering, and to make sure Amazon feels as unwelcome in Queens as possible.”

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