Tensions High At City Council Hearing On Amazon Deal

January 30, 2019 - 12:52 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Tensions were high Wednesday as Amazon unveiled some new initiatives at a City Council hearing to prove it will be a good neighbor when it moves into Queens.

In an attempt to soothe anger over the billions in tax incentives they received from the city and state, Amazon is putting on a full court press to win over New Yorkers, promising jobs for residents in public housing and tech training for SUNY and CUNY students to get their foot in the door, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported.

Amazon continues to send flyers to Queens residents trying to convince them why the deal to open a second headquarters in the borough will be good for Queens, but not everyone is buying it.

At a a labor protest before the hearing, City Councilman Jimmy Van Brammer ripped up one of the mailers saying, "Save the trees, we don't want your b-------t anymore."

"My advice to you on behalf of my constituents, stop sending them. They are not working, opposition is growing," he later told Amazon executives at the hearing.

Residents and elected officials have been staging protests since the deal to bring Amazon to Long Island City was announced last November. As part of the agreement, New York has agreed to provide Amazon with direct incentives of $1.525 billion, including a refundable tax credit through the state’s Excelsior Program of up to $1.2 billion and a cash grant from Empire State Development of $325 million. 

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson stole the show at the hearing, asking Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president for public policy, "Why do you need our money?"

"We have 63,000 people sleeping in a homeless shelter tonight in New York City, we have subways that are falling apart, we have schools that aren't getting the money they deserve," Johnson said.

During the hearing, protesters let their feelings be known by holding signs that read, "Caution: Amazon Lies" and at one point some were escorted out of the chambers after breaking out in chant and unfurling a banner that read, "Amazon Delivers Lies" and "Amazon Fuels Ice."

Local union leaders say the online retail giant is "anti-worker" and "anti-union." George Miranda, who serves as Secretary-Treasurer of Local 210 and president of the Teamsters Joint Council 16 in New York, is working to ensure employees at the new Amazon headquarters will have rights.

“We're not going to allow them to, you know, do what they've done elsewhere around the country in terms of how they treat their employees, in terms of wages, benefits and working conditions,” Miranda said.

He notes that conditions in Amazon factories around the county are “deplorable.”

Miranda also co-wrote a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo with Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, demanding that before any deal is approved Amazon has to commit to allowing workers to form a union.

“This is a very progressive a state, we have standards to maintain, and we take pride in maintaining those standards in wages, in working conditions and benefits,” Miranda explained.

In a statement to Crain’s New York Business, Amazon said it respects workers’ rights to form a union.

At the hearing, when asked if Amazon would agree to neutrality so workers can unionize Huseman replied, "No sir."