Feb. 22, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez
A group of Queens politicians and local activists gathered yesterday at the site of Amazon’s future distribution center in Woodside to vow to continue the fight against the e-commerce giant just one week after the stunning collapse of the HQ2 deal.
The cohort, made up of legislators like State. Sen Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Ron Kim; members from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; and grassroots groups like Make the Road New York stood outside Amazon’s planned delivery center at 26-15 Boody St. to call out the company on its “predatory behavior” and demand changes to its labor practices.
The labor and community leaders, along with the elected officials, were among the most vocal critics of the now-scrapped Long Island City campus plans, citing a slew of concerns with the project that included its buildout, the deal that brought it about, and, of late, Amazon’s labor track record.
The company’s labor practices became the source of much scrutiny after an Amazon executive told the City Council in an oversight hearing earlier this month that the corporation would not remain neutral if its workers wanted to unionize.
Amazon had also been grilled after reports of conditions in their warehouses, like one of workers allegedly urinating into bottles to save time, and another of employees hospitalized after a machine ruptured bear repellent inside a New Jersey facility.
The company, however, had a “productive” meeting with labor leaders on how it would respond to unionization efforts—just one day before it pulled out of HQ2 plans, according to the New York Times.
While Amazon said it would not start up the HQ2 search again at the time of its announcement, it noted that it would continue to build its presence in New York.
The company current has over 5,000 employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island, and signed a deal late last year for the “last-mile delivery” center at the former headquarters of the Bulova watch company in Woodside. The news came about one month after the company announced it had selected Long Island City for its new 25,000-job offices.
The space is expected to employ hundreds of full, part-time and contractor employees, the latter of which are paid between $18 to $25 per hour. It is unclear when the space is expected to open.
Opponents, however, say the center has “the worst jobs Amazon has to offer,” and that the company has an “alarming track record of wage theft, dangerous health and safety conditions and exploitative practices.”
“My neighbors deserve good paying union jobs and my job is to fight for them,” Ramos said at the rally. “When a billion dollar corporation is expected to enter my community, they must understand that they still have a clear responsibility to me and my neighbors.”
Kim, who is running for public advocate with a “people over corporations” slogan, railed against Amazon and even called on Congress to investigate the company, claiming it is too large.
“Amazon is a monopolistic, abusive predatory firm that is designed to exploit, extort and extract as much money, value and wealth out of our communities,” he said.
Camille Rivera, political director for RWDSU, all but said the group is in favor of the jobs Amazon is bringing so long as it is on their terms.
“We must ensure every worker can collectively bargain and organize,” she said. “This Amazon site is just a taste of what’s to come. We can’t fall for Amazon’s divide and conquer strategy.”
RWDSU was among the labor groups that met with Amazon to try to come to an agreement hours before the company cancelled its campus plans.
The grassroots groups said it was their organizing efforts that helped dissolve Amazon’s plans, and it will be their efforts, too, that will bring about the demands they seek for employees at the Woodside warehouse.
“We beat the richest man and corporation in the world by standing together as immigrant rights organizations, anti-gentrification organizations, labor and electeds,” said Anshu Khadka, an organizer for DRUM, a Jackson Heights-based group.
She added: “We continue to stand…and fight to unionize warehouse workers for respect and livable wages and conditions because our people are priceless.”
An Amazon spokeswoman offered a different account of the company’s relationship with its workers than expressed at the rally.
“We work hard every day to ensure all of our employees are treated fairly and with dignity and respect and we have open and direct dialogue with employees around the country,” the spokeswoman said.
Amazon added that it is proud to offer a wide variety of work opportunities, and that its delivery structure has led to thousands of local driver jobs offering competitive pay and benefits being created.
“We are committed to continue investing in local aspiring entrepreneurs and creating hundreds of job opportunities with the new Amazon delivery station in Queens.” the spokeswoman said.
Amazon said it would proceed with its new offices and centers in Nashville and Northern Virginia at the time the New York City plan, which the city and state laid out about $3 billion in performance-based incentives for, was dropped. Half of the jobs at the campus were anticipated to be tech-related.
The construction and building service workers, meanwhile, were the only union jobs laid out for the campus.
It is unclear what will become of the Anable Basin parcels Amazon was slated to build its sprawling campus over in 2020. The lots, however, were already under development for massive mixed-use projects.