Not so fast, Amazon.
When Jeff Bezos’ company announced that half of its second headquarters known as HQ2 would be on the Queens, N.Y., waterfront, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio touted the deal’s benefits, which include a pledge from Amazon to create 25,000 jobs, paying an average of $150,000 per year in exchange for a slew of city and state tax breaks and subsidies worth up to $3 billion.
However, the backlash from local officials, labor leaders, activists and some residents – wondering why so much public funding was going to Amazon, whether gentrification would increase and how HQ2 might overburden the city’s already-beleaguered subways and buses – was swift.
“I don’t think anyone should assume that this is a fait accompli, and that this is a done deal,” New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told Business Insider. “This is the beginning of a process where the public and the City Council and other elected officials are going to continue to seek answers and understand whether or not this is a good deal for New York City, or if we got played.”
Amazon has taken heat from a range of public officials, including state Sen. Michael Gianaris, New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The company’s officials have extolled the benefits in jobs and wages as the pushback has continued, but that didn’t seem to impress Johnson.
“Twenty-five thousand jobs doesn’t impact our local economy here in the same way it impacts a local economy, say, in Pittsburgh or in Scranton or in Crystal City,” Johnson said.
According to New York State’s Labor Department, the city itself had over 4 million private sector jobs in November of 2018 and its unemployment rate is already at a record low.
A half dozen more hearings are scheduled for January through March in advance of a vote by the New York State Public Authorities Control Board, which according to state law has final say over the “approval of the financing and construction of any project proposed by state public benefit corporations.”
In 2005, the board rejected former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $2.2 billion plan to redevelop Manhattan’s West Side with a stadium for the New York Jets that could have been used for the 2012 Olympics.
The tech giant took out advertisements in several New York City newspapers on Saturday touting the company’s plan to “hire people with all different levels of education,” create programs to train underrepresented residents and that the $27 billion in state and local tax revenue the project purports to create can be used to “improve subways and buses, and build more affordable housing.” In addition, company officials have noted that a poll in December showed a majority of New Yorkers in favor of HQ2. Fox News reached out to Amazon for comment on Johnson’s statements.
On Monday, two Seattle city council members, along with some local Amazon workers, briefed politicians and labor activists, urging them to demand more from the retail giant.
“Don’t be the city or the state that flinches every time a corporation flexes its muscles,” said Seattle Councilwoman Theresa Mosqueda during a press briefing. “The companies that are doing well in our cities are doing well because they are working with our workforce, they’re building on our infrastructure. They should be contributing equitably into a system that they are benefiting from.”
“This company is too big and powerful. Seattle tried to implement common-sense public policy to protect its people and Amazon basically rolled it back,” said New York State Sen. Mike Gianaris, in reference to Seattle’s measure – ultimately repealed – that would have imposed a “head tax” of $275 per employee toward widespread homelessness.
Although one of Gov. Cuomo’s appointees on the board told The New York Times in November that a vote would not necessarily be held on the $500 million state grant, Johnson pushed back on that.
“This still has to go through that process, which means that we have to continue to ask questions before the Public Authorities Control Board meets and makes a determination,” Johnson said.
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