Amazon.com has reconsidered its plans of bringing in 25,000 jobs to a new campus in New York City, and this could be due to the wave of political and community opposition.
It was hailed as an economic triumph by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, D, but currently, the project has faced criticism from elected officials and advocacy groups who have appalled the prospect of giant subsidies giving to the world’s most valuable company, led by the richest man. Jeff Bezos owns Amazon as well as the Washington Post.
The company executives had an internal discussion recently so as to reassess the situation in New York and as well as explore alternatives. The company hasn’t leased or purchased any office space for the project in the Queens neighbourhood of Long Island City, and this can be an easy explanation to abandon this commitment.
Unlike Virginia, where elected leaders are allowed to quickly pass incentive package for a separate headquarters campus, and Tennessee, which also has plans for a smaller facility, the final approval from New York State can’t be expected until 2020.
Amazon spokeswoman Jodi Seth said: “We are focused on engaging along with our new neighbours. . . Be it building a pipeline of local jobs with the help of workforce training or funding computer science classes for thousands of New York City students, we have been working extremely hard to demonstrate the kind of neighbour we will potentially end up being.“
Amazon has hired a lobbying firm and a public relations firm in New York and was seen advertising for a “senior community affairs manager” who would be able to “focus on developing a positive partnership along with the local stakeholders, community groups and non-profits.“
One person said- “I think it is high time Amazon makes a decision since it has to start hiring,” At some point, the project could start falling behind.”
But officials have remained furious since Sen. Michael Gianaris was nominated, who is the deputy majority leader of the Senate and also a strong opponent of the deal, to the Public Authorities Control Board, where he could potentially kill the project.
On Friday, Cuomo said- “It is a very small group of politicians who have been pandering. The problem is that the state Senate has adopted this position, and it could potentially have the ability to stop Amazon. And if this happens, I wouldn’t want to remain a Democratic senator who would back to my district and explain why Amazon left.“
Gianaris has described the possibility of Amazon pulling out of the deal, which sums up to $3 billion in state and city incentives as blackmail. He said- “Amazon has extorted New York from the beginning, and it seems like their next effort to do just the same. If their view is, ‘We won’t come unless we are given three billion of your dollars,’ they shouldn’t come.”
The resistance in New York is a sharp contrast to the warm welcome that Amazon has received in Virginia, where Gov. Ralph Northam, D has signed a law on Tuesday which has authorized a whopping $750 million in state subsidies for their Arlington headquarters.
It’s unclear what Amazon could be considered as a Plan B if the New York project falls through. But it is quite possible that they could forgo the incentive package and hire employees on a smaller scale, like how competitors such as Google have been hiring. Or Amazon could as well search for another jurisdiction to get some or all of their jobs done.
Stephen Moret, the chief executive of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the state’s top Amazon negotiator stated- “We will always welcome more great jobs to the commonwealth.”
Resistance to the Amazon in New York has been well organized and energetic, and this has all been due to the unions and community groups. Canvassers have gone door-to-door to warn people in Queens about the looming rent hikes and displacement, and Seattle has experienced many such situations during the company’s explosive growth there.
The opponents also include City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, D-Manhattan, and Deputy Leader of the City Council James G. Van Bramer, D-Queens.
Critics have portrayed the New York struggle as the country’s test for populist forces who would confront big companies’ influence, and for contesting within the Democratic Party between their grass-roots and business-friendly wings.
Gianaris said thus- “We have been dealing with an era of unprecedented corporate power in our country. This Amazon deal can be seen as a tipping point which would set the stage for what our country could be going forward with.”
Amazon has surprised the nation in November after they announced that they would split their much-publicized second headquarters between Arlington and Long Island City, and employees at each site would end up earning an average of at least $150,000 a year. Initially, the company had plans of having all the 50000 jobs in a single location.
The divergent reactions in New York and Virginia have risen due to the political and economic differences between the two places. New York has been a pro-labour city, whereas Virginia has been a right-to-work state where employees can’t be obliged to join a union posing it as a condition of employment. Amazon has opposed the attempts of unionising their workforce and has said that they would do the same in New York as well.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said- “What Amazon has been looking to do is to come in and change the values of our city.”
New York has also been strained due to the effects of rapid economic growth, whereas Arlington has remained eager to attract investment to Crystal City so as to offset the loss of thousands of federal government jobs in the past 14 years.
The activists have ended up occupying an Amazon store in Manhattan, and this was marched in Albany and demonstrated at the office of Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, D-Queens, who have been supporters of the deal.
Deborah Axt, the co-executive director of Make the Road, which is an organization of low-income immigrants and communities of colour said- “The geography in New York has brought together many threads of activism who were absolutely ready to react to such an announcement and have been particularly outraged.”
Northern Virginia, Axt said- “It doesn’t have quite the pool of amazing champions who would be ready to jump into the fray but we are fortunate enough to have been working here in New York.”
In Virginia, most of the state and local leaders were seen supporting Amazon’s arrival, even after they saw opposition by Tenants and Workers United, Our Revolution Arlington and some members of Indivisible Arlington, who have also staged a few small protests at community meetings.
The Arlington County Board has been giving in the final touches for this proposed $23 million local incentives package, which is being expected to be approved in March or sometimes nearby.
Board Chair Christian Dorsey, D, said- “Most people have considered this as a great opportunity.”
The board has been pressuring Amazon to sign a project labor agreement which would ensure a living wage, proper job classifications as well as safety standards for those who would be employed in the construction by contractors and subcontractors.
One of the board members Erik Gutshall, D said- “They have been emphatically not promised anything. But I don’t get the sense that any of these things could be a non-starter.”
Residents of the neighborhoods around the Arlington site have been worried about the increase in rent, the spike in property taxes and paralysing traffic. But neither they nor the progressive groups who have been lobbying against the company seem to have enough political clout so as to block the deal completely.
In New York, critics have been hoping that Amazon will tire their devoting time and money to fight a battle which they never expected.
Van Bramer said- “The way these fights work, it will push each and every little thing. That approach will surely be a cause of worry for Amazon.
Amazon’s vice president for policy, Brian Huseman, to the City Council hearing recently said thus- “We want to invest in a community which wants us.“