Amazon’s Arrival Divides Unions at Council Hearing

Protesters in front row of the City Council chamber display their disdain for the Amazon deal.  Eagle  photos by Todd Maisel.

Protesters in front row of the City Council chamber display their disdain for the Amazon deal. Eagle photos by Todd Maisel.

By David Brand

Two coalitions converged on City Hall Wednesday, once again turning the front steps and the council chamber into a staging ground for the ongoing battle over Amazon, which has divided the city’s unions into two camps.

This time around, the Council’s Finance Committee questioned and condemned New York City Economic Development Corporation President James Patchett and two Amazon executives about the mega-corporation’s pending move to Long Island City.

Construction workers in hard hats from the 32BJ union members held signs welcoming Amazon during a rally on the steps outside — though Amazon executive Brian Huseman said later during the hearing that Amazon would oppose unionization of its workers in New York City.

Business leaders also shared their support for Amazon.

“Queens has long been known for its diversity of cultures and ideas,” said Thomas Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce at the rally. “With Amazon choosing Long Island City for its new headquarters, it’s clear that the business community recognizes the value this neighborhood has to offer and we are committed to working closely together to ensure everyone can benefit from their success.”

Inside, scores of protesters — including members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the Teamsters — holding orange “Amazon lies” signs filled the chamber. A few demonstrators in the balcony unfurled large black banners that read “Amazon Delivers Lies” and “Amazon Fuels ICE Deportations” — a reference to facial recognition technology that Amazon has marketed to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As at a council hearing last month and countless anti-Amazon actions citywide, opponents criticized the corporation’s effect on housing prices and displacement, as well as the $3 billion in tax incentives that Amazon will receive from the city and state.

“The question I have been asking myself is how much is too much? In a world where so many are hungry at night, cold all day, and unable to afford a doctor when they inevitably get sick, how can so much wealth be concentrated in one person’s hands,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Western Queens and originally supported overtures to Amazon. “And how does the city and state celebrate a deal that exacerbates income inequality?”

Patchett said Amazon would erode inequality by fueling job growth on its corporate campus and the surrounding area.

“Cities work best when everyone is working. And that’s exactly what Amazon promises New Yorkers today,” Patchett said in his testimony. “By further diversifying the economy and providing a reliable financial anchor, the new headquarters will help safeguard New York against future recessions and secure the resources we need to keep spearheading progressive change.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson seemed incredulous while listening to Patchett speak. Johnson cited Amazon’s work with ICE.

“You have no misgivings about the deal?” he asked Patchett, who demurred. “It sounds like you should have misgivings based on what we know about Amazon.”

The battle raged outside the chamber as well.

During the hearing, Amazon’s surrogates unleashed a public relations campaign on behalf of the corporation with several prominent backers sharing their support via email to members of the press.

“Amazon’s proposal to move to Long Island City is good for New York’s long-term growth. This move will expand New York’s already burgeoning tech ecosystem, an industry with average salaries 49 percent higher than other sectors and 45 percent higher for New Yorkers without bachelor’s degrees,” Association For a Better New York Executive Director Angela Sung-Pinsky said in a statement. “It’s a great move for Amazon too as the company gains access to our city’s top-notch talent, our unparalleled diversity, and all our culture and entertainment.”