A refusal by Amazon executives to say that they would remain neutral when it comes to unions sparked concerns among elected officials at the second New York City Council oversight hearing on Amazon HQ2 in Queens.
Council Speaker Corey Johnson asked Brian Huseman, vice president of public policy at Amazon, if the company would agree to neutrality if workers at Amazon wanted to unionize.
“No, we would not agree to that,” Huseman said. There are currently no Amazon workers who are in a union.
Concerning Amazon HQ2 in Queens, James Patchett, president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, said this project is committed to working with building trades unions and 32BJ SEIU, a property services union, though there is no deal with these unions yet.
To many on the council and at the hearing, it wasn’t enough. One crowd member was escorted out for yelling in opposition to how Amazon doesn’t want its workers to unionize.
“I think you made the distinction somehow that because this is a headquarters, those people working in those buildings don’t need representation, don’t deserve to be in union. All workers should have the right to be in a union,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Long Island City. “You are too big and too strong and too powerful.”
In a statement, Dani Lever, communications director for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said that at the hearing, the company was "doing a bad job of communicating."
"What they said [Wednesday] is inconsistent with their prior December statement and their prior action in using union service jobs and union construction jobs," she said. "New York State is a union town, and they should know that."
The second oversight hearing on Amazon HQ2 in Queens was with the Committee on Finance with the goal to answer, essentially, if the city was getting adequate “bang for its buck” with the HQ2 deal, said Finance Chair Daniel Dromm.
According to an NYCEDC report, Amazon HQ2 will generate $27 billion in tax revenue for New York state, with $13.5 billion going to New York City specifically, over 25 years. Amazon is getting $3 billion in subsidies from the city and state. Its HQ2 is expected to create 25,000 jobs by 2029 and 40,000 jobs by 2034.
But an independent report is needed, Council Speaker Corey Johnson said, that also calculates the costs of Amazon HQ2 to both Queens and the entire city. In total, officials say Amazon HQ2 is expected to bring 130,000 new people to New York City, “who need to be housed, educated, transported and protected,” said Dromm. “How much will that cost?”
A full environmental impact analysis will be conducted, said Pratchett, but these factors were not considered in the NYCEDC report on generated tax revenue.
Protestors unfurl anti-Amazon banners from the balcony of a hearing room during a New York City Council Finance Committee hearing titled 'Amazon HQ2 Stage 2: Does the Amazon Deal Deliver for New York City Residents?' Getty Images
The Amazon HQ2 site pushed aside a plan to bring two new schools to Long Island City, where districts are already crowded. Amazon promises to provide space for those displaced students, while council members called for the city and company to commit to three new schools.
Amazon promised to hire New Yorkers, once again citing the current diverse talent pool and its planned talent pipeline projects for a reason it wanted its HQ2 in Queens. Of the 5,000 current Amazon jobs in New York City, 60 percent are held by New Yorkers, the company said.
Council members still pushed for more information on just how many of the HQ2 jobs would go to New Yorkers specifcally, what percent would be available to those with high school diplomas versus college degrees, and what the most common salary would be. The average salary of the Amazon HQ2 jobs is $150,000, per the company, but there could be large discrepancies between those salaries, Van Bramer said.
Along with Amazon’s anti union behavior in a historically union town, elected officials also noted that Amazon’s relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) runs antithetical to New York City’s stance as a sanctuary city.
Unlike at the first hearing, Huseman immediately committed to appearing at the next New York City Council Amazon HQ2 oversight hearing, scheduled for the end of February.
Amazon HQ2 in Queens: partnerships between the tech company and NYC
Amazon announced a slew of initiatives meant to facilitate its relationship as a prominent neighbor to New Yorkers, including:
- Enrolling more than 130 New York City high schools into the Amazon Future Engineer program, which provides funding for computer education. One in every four high schools in Queens is participating in AFE, and more than two-thirds of these high schools are Title One. Amazon is still accepting applications from additional schools.
- Customer service jobs set aside for New York City Housing Authority (NCYHA) residents at Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Woodside and Astoria Houses. Only 30 jobs are currently slated for NYCHA residents, for which Amazon will begin accepting applications next quarter.
- Helping small businesses in Queens by encouraging its workforce to shop local, especially for food. Amazon said that in Seattle, it specifically constructed its headquarters food service to only feed one third of its workers, thus pushing employees out into the neighborhood to buy their lunch. Amazon still also set aside first floor retail space for locally owned businesses. Council members still had concerns about how HQ2 could harm local businesses, like by increasing competition and raising commercial rents.
-Partnering with LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York and the State University of New York to launch a new Cloud Computing Certificate program, which the company says will help students learn skills for entry-level tech jobs at Amazon or other companies.