Nearly 100 Queens residents, workers’ rights advocates and anti-Amazon allies packed onto the steps of City Hall on Wednesday morning to ensure that the voices making up the communities impacted by Amazon’s decision to build is second headquarters in Long Island City were heard loud and clear.
During the rally, held ahead of a City Council hearing on Amazon, speakers from community organizations and unions called attention to the company’s abysmal workers rights record and its collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Their demands: for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo to invest in New York’s poor, its working class and the city’s crumbling infrastructure before subsidizing and offering tax incentives for the trillion-dollar company to set up shop in Queens.
‘Amazon: save the trees. We don’t want your bullshit anymore.’
“Bus drivers, teachers, secretaries, janitors and departments store workers have paid $3 billion of their taxpayer dollars to the government only to have their mayor and their government give that money to a man who is worth $160 billion,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Long Island City. “It’s shameful that workers’ rights are being disregarded. It’s shameful that immigrants’ rights are being trampled. It’s a bad deal today and it will always be a bad deal for NYC and Queens.”
Van Bramer prefaced his remarks by holding up a mailer Amazon distributed in his district. “Amazon: save the trees,” he said. “We don’t want your bullshit anymore.”
George Miranda, International Vice President At-Large of the Teamsters union, agreed the company does not deserve the $3 billion it is receiving.
“Amazon doesn’t pay a living wage,” he said. “Amazon doesn’t provide good benefits. Amazon works employees into the ground. When its workers try to unionize, Amazon fights back. This is tax money that could be going to schools, affordable housing or the MTA.”
DRUM Executive Director Fahd Ahmed asked the crowd of protesters lining the steps of City Hall to raise their hand if they were from an immigrant family. Nearly every arm lifted, triggering quiet laughter from the crowd and surrounding press.
The fact that Amazon’s move to Long Island City will disproportionately impact immigrant communities and residents of color was not lost on Ahmed’s audience. They fear tech companies and other large corporations that monopolize jobs, raise rents and simultaneously refuse to pay living wages will inevitably displace close-knit, working-class and immigrant communities across Queens.
“We’ve seen what happened in Seattle,” said Ahmed. “We’ve seen what happened in San Francisco. Immigrant communities were destroyed where Amazon and other high-tech corporations set up shop.”
Amazon also has an alarming history of marketing facial recognition software to law enforcement, including ICE and the FBI. The software, “Rekognition,” has shown greater accuracy in identifying light-skin individuals, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, leading to fears of racial bias in its deployment.
Inside the hearing, City Council members pressed Amazon executives for transparency and to place ethics ahead of profit. Brian Huseman, vice president of public policy at Amazon, was asked if the company would agree to neutrality if workers at Amazon wanted to unionize. “No, we would not agree to that,” said Huseman.
At one point, proceedings were disrupted by protesters chanting “Amazon delivers lies.” The next City Council hearing on Amazon is scheduled to take place on Feb. 27.
Photo credit: Erin Sheridan.