“You’re Worth $1 Trillion. Why Do You Need Our $3 Billion?” Angry New Yorkers Confront Amazon Execs at City Council Meeting

Yves here. Queens is one of the few remaining areas of New York City with comparatively affordable housing and good access to Manhattan. When Twitter put a headquarters in an old working-class area of San Francisco, which had had cheap rents by the standards of that city, Twitter executives and senior employees rented crash pads nearby, with the result that someone I know who lived nearby saw her rent go up by 30%.

By Julia Conley, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

After being kept in the dark about New York’s $3 billion deal with Amazon, allowing the trillion-dollar corporation to build its new headquarters—complete with helicopter landing pad for CEO Jeff Bezos—in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, concerned New York City Council members and scores of angry New Yorkers on Wednesday angrily confronted company representatives over the plan.

At the first City Council meeting on Amazon’s so-called “HQ2,” about 150 protesters joined the mostly-Democratic lawmakers in slamming the closed-door process through which the city and state finalized the deal and the effect the corporation’s arrival will likely have on affordable housing and community development in Queens and the entire city, as New York pours much-needed funds into the new one million square foot campus.

“You’re worth a trillion dollars,” New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said bluntly to Amazon officials Brian Huseman and Holly Sullivan. “Why do you need our $3 billion when we have crumbling subways, crumbling public housing, people without health care, public schools that are overcrowded?”

Amazon has said its arrival in New York will create 25,000 jobs for residents—a claim one protester derided as “smoke and mirrors” during the hearing—and has promised to fund a new school that would serve just 600 of the city’s school children.

Huseman, Amazon’s vice president for public policy, noted that 5,000 New York workers are already employed by the company at a fulfillment center on Staten Island—but as the hearing was underway those same employees were publicizing their effort to unionize, citing long hours, insufficient breaks, and safety concerns on the job.

The HQ2 deal was brokered by state and city officials including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, and the Economic Development Corporation, headed by James Patchett. The officials bypassed public land use reviews which would have required the input of the City Council, including member Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Long Island City’s 68,000 residents.

“James, you disrespected this body with how you handled this process,” Van Bramer told Patchett. “I think it’s fundamentally unethical with what you have done. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

The councilman also called on Amazon, whose CEO is the richest person on the planet, to simply build the headquarters with its own money and redirect the funds to public housing developments in the neighborhood.

Outside City Hall, State Assemblyman Ron T. Kim led protesters in a rally, calling the hearing a “first step” in holding Amazon accountable to the people of New York.

“Our current state, all of the hatred, all of the divisiveness that we are feeling right now on the ground—those are symptoms of a deeper problem. Of an economy that has been failing us for 40, 50 years,” Kim said. “When the economy is failing we give trillions of dollars to big banks, when the economy is booming we’re giving billions of dollars to mega-corporations…There’s an opportunity right now to undo this. Unrig the system. This is the first step—getting clarity, transparency, and focusing on the process.”

As rumors swirled last month about HQ2, just before Amazon announced that it would build one campus in New York and one in Arlington, Virginia, Kim joined former attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout in warning against welcoming the company to New York, referencing the skyrocketing home prices and community erosion that’s resulted from Amazon’s presence in Seattle.

“If Amazon indeed locates a substantial part of its business in New York, serfdom is the style of ‘partnership’ the city should expect,” Kim and Teachout wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “Despite the familiar promises, Amazon is not a good partner. Not for the cities it occupies, not for the merchants who depend on it, not for the workers it employs. The company does not seek partnership; it seeks control. Seattle’s experience shows that becoming dependent on Amazon did not lead to broader wealth; it has pushed up home prices and led to increased homelessness. Amazon also threw its political weight around in the city, spending millions in a brutal campaign to resist corporate taxes in Seattle.

“It would be a special insult in New York City to sell out to a company so closely identified with squashing small merchants, stifling workers’ rights, and undermining the publishing and ideas industry,” they added.

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61 comments

  1. makedoanmend

    I see you New Yawkers haven’t changed one iota since I left the big smoke all those years ago. I mean, really, it’s so…how shall we say…rather indelicate to mention such a tawdry subject as money when allowed to, indeed be privileged to, address one’s economic superiors. So ends this sarc/

    Reply
  2. Pavel

    For some reason on reading this I recalled The Great Gatsby and the oculist’s sign in Queens:

    But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic – their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground… I followed him over a low white-washed railroad fence and we walked back a hundred yards along the road under Doctor Eckleburg’s persistent stare… “Terrible place, isn’t it,” said Tom, exchanging a frown with Doctor Eckleburg.

    Bezos and his Silicon Valley kleptocrat buddies put Tom and Daisy Buchanan to shame when it comes to destroying the lives of the poor and middle class.

    And how are the people of Buffalo making out with their handout to this century’s greatest con man, Elon Musk and his Gigafactory 2?

    Reply
    1. Sam Adams

      Seems appropriate as 25a and northern boulevard in Queens was the model for the road to The great estates in East Egg.

      Reply
  3. JTMcPhee

    “We don’t NEED your $3 billion, we just WANT it, and your bosses are venal and corrupt and stupid enough to give it to us. And what are you mopes going to do about it, hey?”

    Reply
    1. Norb

      Nothing- until the current order breaks apart under stress. Same thing with families, as the acrimonious debates about current economic policy and financial stresses cause members to choose sides and make a stand. Only under pressure do you find out who your true friends are.

      Wanting rules human relations in America and when that shallow existence is exposed for the mediocrity that it is, anger and destruction prevail.

      What can we do? – break free of wanting, both individual and socially. What needs to be demanded are strong social bonds that aren’t based on some temporary whim of a business organization.

      Only then can proper human relations begin to form and alternative ways of living can take root. That way of living will be in support of ones comrades.

      What is left? – A lifetime of agony and struggle trying to reason with people the likes of Jeff Bezos? The chaos that is engulfing the world won’t permit that.

      It’s the old story of taking control of the means of production.

      People are not weak and powerless.

      Reply
      1. Cal

        If Americans want health care for all, if they want decent wages, if they want their taxes paid to go toward infrastructure, then Americans have to do what the French are doing in Paris.
        A mass refusal to file income taxes would go a long way toward getting the attention of the elites running the country.

        Reply
        1. jrs

          it would get attention but of course eventually it would get the tax authorities garnishing your wages, because unless you work under the table your income gets reported.

          Reply
      1. Altandmain

        Unfortunately, that’s only part of the problem. The Republicans are no better.

        They need Berniecrats and really left wing politicians that are not corrupt, not owned by the likes of Goldman Sachs or Amazon, and who really want to serve the people.

        Apparently there is a desperate shortage of charismatic politicians that can raise attention.

        Reply
  4. Louis Fyne

    about that 5000 employees on Staten Island…Amazon is notorious! for capping hours of part-timers to minimizing its headcount of full-timers.

    instead of letting that (possibly) white-lie factoid slide, a journalist should double check that statement.

    Reply
    1. juliania

      “…about that 5000 employees on Staten Island…Amazon is notorious! for capping hours of part-timers to minimizing its headcount of full-timers.”

      Gotta jump in and say, they are assuredly not the only ones doing this. It’s a pandemic.

      Reply
    1. lyman alpha blob

      That’s an easy one –

      Meat robots – 25,000 needed. Applicants must be somewhat sentient although not necessarily sapient as Amazon prefers to do the thinking for its employees. Ability to breathe on one’s own is preferred but not required. Amazon has developed an app to assist those who can’t fog a mirror but it will result in an 80% reduction in compensation.

      Reply
  5. Pat

    The title of the post following this includes the term “unicorns rampant”. I would suggest the same description regarding any supposed benefits provided by Amazon and Cuomo and any other of the politicians who circumvented process that would have killed this about the Long Island City HQ benefits to the neighborhood and the City.

    If I were the city I would pass an immediate city tax surcharge for corporations who have received NYC and state tax incentives exceeding five million dollars supposedly for providing jobs. Said surcharge would be one million dollars per year for every job they do not provide New Yorkers as promised. To count towards the promised jobs (in Amazon’s case 25,000) – the job must have gone to NY resident, be full time, pay median wage in NYC and have full benefits. The elimination of any such job or replacement with an out of state of worker would trigger the return of said surcharge. IOW, if you don’t actually provide 25,000 good jobs for NYers you pay us, and pay us, and pay us. Call it the treating corporations like people requirement for incentives cuz you know we don’t get the tax breaks and give aways unless we meet the criteria most with high bars…

    Mind you, none of the politicians now protesting have the balls to do that.

    Reply
  6. freedomny

    What is getting MUCH less news, but is equally important, is that Amazon bought the Bulova watch factory on the Woodside/Elmhurst border in Queens, right at a major highway intersection, for use as a distribution/fulfillment center: It’s probably about 5 miles from the Long Island City Amazon site.

    https://therealdeal.com/2018/10/19/amazon-to-open-first-distribution-center-in-queens/

    Also, as a side note to what Amazon will do to certain neighborhoods in Queens – I happen to live in a gorgeous cooperative building right by an amazing park that has one of the few horse bridle trail paths left in the NYC area, The apartments in our building were extremely affordable by NYC standards. I say were, because since Amazon announced their plans – 2 apartments sold (cash) by approx 25% higher than previous recent sales. And some residents of my building are getting inundated with calls from real estate agents and investors to sell.

    Reply
    1. tegnost

      And so it begins as expected. I used to live in seattle, now if I have to go there (still in the region) I won’t stay overnight. Good for New Yorkers, I love the bluntness and remember it from my time in the SUNY system, my first exposure to brooklyn straight talk, and later having to explain to west coasters that the denizens of NYC are a little different, no pussy footing as it were, and I find the same in Yves and NC. Brutal honesty shocks people…I agree, that 3 billion should be spent on low income housing today, because tomorrow the amazon bros will own it all. Buyer beware.

      Reply
  7. cnchal

    As Lambert keeps reminding us: “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

    > The HQ2 deal was brokered by state and city officials including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, and the Economic Development Corporation, headed by James Patchett. The officials bypassed public land use reviews . . .

    What was the brokerage fee? Did they throw in a helicopter as a deal sweetener?

    Am I the only one that when seeing an Amazon package, it’s covered in symbolic phuck yous.

    Reply
    1. BoulderMike

      You are not the only one. Every time I see the dreaded Amazon “D*ck” it makes me sick. I can’t understand why people continue to do business with someone who has literally stated that he doesn’t want to be the biggest and/or most successful competitor in a particular industry, but rather wants to eliminate all competition/competitors. When the richest 1% control 90% of the wealth in the country the country is just a hollow shell and the government is neutered. What we have now is a faux government controlled by the wealthiest 1/10th of 1% who by default are Kings. When they control the wealth, they control the government. When they control the government, they become the government. Then they make the rules. So, it is like Henry VIII but by a small committee of Billionaires, rather than one person.
      Amazon is a parasite and the only way to stop it is to stop doing business with it. Government will not help.

      Reply
    2. JBird4049

      Our current governmental regime is a reflection then of our fvk-uped society is it not? This is like Boss Tweed or Robert Moses deciding what the people are going to decide to do.

      Rather like San Francisco although I do not know the details here, and I should since I live in the Bay Area, but people behind the scenes decided that working and middle classes are like a fungus infection that must be eliminated. I say that because the whole Bay Area starting with the city has been sterilized and become a theme park with the survivors being ignored at best. So we get the big city prices without the big city vibe, businesses, or entertainment, but we do get such a lovely facade.

      Reply
        1. JBird4049

          A liquor store on every corner? In Baghdad by the Bay? Dude, I don’t think so. The City has long had a habit of Bacchanal partying true, but nothing that gauche. Now an abundance of “medicinal” weed dispensaries…

          ;-)

          Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        A lovely facade, like Disney World, or that carney arcade/circus freak show called Universal Studios Florida… “Let us separate you from your money, while you do all the work and your grasping kids whine and run wild…” $40 for a “Harry Potter” plastic made in China “wand…”

        Reply
    1. JTMcPhee

      I live nowhere near NY, and would note that Amazon is hardly the only distributor of Gilets Jaunes. But I await delivery of two 10-packs of “yellow safety vests with pockets” that cost about $2.50 each from another source. I plan to distribute these, with reprints of a couple of the articles that have been flagged here, highlighting the activities and attempting to distill the motives and motivations of the people who are taking part in what I would call a kind of “international job action.”

      Time to go find all that old music from the ‘70s about “something’s happenin’ here..” https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gp5JCrSXkJY

      Reply
      1. H. Alexander Ivey

        That old music is from the ’60s, back when many activists groups in the US were pressing for change.

        I would remember (the ’60s), but I was there…

        Reply
  8. Carolinian

    Great stuff and the more bad PR for Amazon the better. But if New Yorkers are going start complaining about robber barons they may be 150 years too late. From Rockefeller Center to the great museums they built the place and even now are plastering their names on “public” institutions like the NY Public Library. Some might even argue that the once bankrupt city revived itself on the backs of the hollowed out heartland which can now say to those unfortunate Queens residents: welcome to our world.

    But New Yorkers do have a far more direct line to the MSM if the newspapers and broadcasters choose to notice. Throw up some picket lines there too.

    Reply
  9. jfleni

    Where is Casio – Cortez and her screeches against the
    new Queens plutocrats, but forget it Apparently Nancy
    wants it; peasants like OC don’t prevail against Nancy!

    Reply
        1. JBird4049

          He diverted an entire river into the stables as I recall. There are the Potomac and the Hudson rivers… seriously, the only way she can get anything done is to get a river of people to help her or else she’s going to keep digging until Judgement Day, and I really don’t want to wait that long.

          Reply
          1. aletheia33

            love your metaphors (or whatever they are exactly). “unmucked stable” +100!!

            there is a river of people to help her. just wait and see.

            Reply
            1. Chauncey Gardiner

              Re a river of people: It is interesting that Amazon’s HQ2 announcement in Long Island City was delayed until after the November US congressional elections. Suspect AOC will face challenges from a variety of perspectives with the effects this development will likely have on her district, the constituents who elected her, and if patterns in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle hold, gentrification of NY’s 14th Congressional district. And that is setting aside Amazon’s enormous political influence in both DC and some state capitols.

              Reply
    1. Phil in KC

      AOC was among the very first to decry the deal, noting all the pertinent factors, namely the wealth of Bezos and company, the deteriorating condition of public works and transportation, the lack of transparency.

      Reply
  10. Chauncey Gardiner

    Regarding the headline to this post and as JTMcPhee said above: They don’t NEED your $3 billion, they WANT your $3 billion. Although it’s small potatoes to them, they know it’s huge for you and that these subsidies will deprive your community of necessary pubic services cited in the piece that require funding unless state and local taxes are raised. This is a small piece of their overall financial repression and wealth concentration scheme that enables them to concentrate political power in their own hands. Btw, it’s not just Amazon. Other major transnational corporations and their venal state and local pols have played this game in one form or another for decades. Consider Foxconn’s subsidies in Wisconsin, etc. IMO the real winners in this deal are the citizens of cities and states that submitted “unsuccessful” bids for this company’s HQ2 and HQ3 facilities.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      It reminds me of something a limnology ( “lake-ology”) professor told us about in a lecture decades ago. Something called “competitive exclusion”. It seems that in some lakes there is a kind of algae which sucks up from out of the water ALL the iron dissolved in the water. It only needs a fraction of the iron to photosynthesise, but if it sucks up ALL of the iron, it leaves behind ZERO iron for any other algae to be able to absorb and use. So all the other species of algae die from iron-starvation.

      Competitive exclusion.

      Reply
  11. Jeff W

    Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world. They do not need a $500 million cash grant from taxpayers to build #HQ2 in #LIC.

    Jeff Bezos makes an estimated $149,353 per minute—so he makes $500 million in 2⅓ days. He could probably scrounge around and come up with the half-a-billion dollars needed in the absence of a cash grant from taxpayers, if pressed.

    Reply
    1. JTMcPhee

      Suggest a clarifying change: Jeff Bezos does not “make” $149,353 per minute, nor does he “earn” it. Maybe he “takes in” that much, or “acquires” it, or “loots at that rate,” or “grabs,” or some other active verb, but definitely not “makes” or “earns.”

      Reply
  12. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Why didn’t I see anything about this in the Old Gray Lady?

    Is it because I red the International Edition? Or did I miss it. Link please if I did.

    Seems sorta major to overlook.

    Reply
  13. McWatt

    Don’t forget, the growth of Amazon was aided and abetted, by all the people of the nation, when they used the site to avoid paying local sales tax.

    Reply
    1. JTMcPhee

      And if I have a swimming pool, and a neighbor’s kid falls in and drowns, I would be sued for “maintaining an attractive nuisance,” wouldn’t I? And Amazon facilitated tax AVOIDANCE by taking full mostly “legal” advantage of “the law,” and then using its accumulated wealth to keep “the law,” as much as possible, favorable to the Bezos looting model. Thieves and disrupters will always be ahead of the ponderous and corruptible mope legislative and regulatory structures.

      I don’t think collective guilt applies, in a situation like Amazon/ABC operates, or Uber or Airbnb or the rest. A lot of Bernaysians have worked smart and hard to teach USians to hate and avoid taxes, and rich folk get away with slick avoidance and straight-up evasion every moment of every day.

      Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Actually, the growth of Amazon was aided and abetted by every person who ever bought something from Amazon at all . . . whether tax considerations were even involved or not.

      Now that Amazon is as big and powerful as it is, many people are either outright captives of Amazon or are within its gravity-well of inertial aquiescence.

      Amazon-skeptics will not be able to boycott Amazon into extinction. That should not even be the goal. Amazon-skeptics might adopt a lesser goal of keeping some NOmazon bussinesses just alive enough long enough to survive the Amazon Dark Age in hopes that Amazon can be exterminated by “larger forces” somehow some-when.

      Reply
    1. Arizona Slim

      I use Amazon to research the books that I borrow from the library. If I like the library book enough to buy it, I purchase it from a locally owned and independently operated store. Or I order directly from the publisher’s website.

      Reply
  14. Jeff

    NC readers are wise enough to realize that most of our fellow citizens, err, consumers (an appropriate name considering that’s how we’re viewed) have no interest in acknowledgement of the reality of Amazon. Acknowledgement of the truth would mean behavior would be have to change, and that’s just too hard .

    Reply
  15. Stan7899

    On a considerably smaller level, we, residents of a small market town in U.K. called Kingston upon Thames have been for the last few years been under the developers’ onslaught where an increasing number of “modern living” boxes are being produced for those U.K. residents who look forward to buy at the asking ratio of wage/property of around 50.

    Needless to say, current taxpayers are required to foot the bill of extra traffic extra school pupils and extra hospital patients.

    The crooks in the Council have now designated our lovely town as “opportunity area” and some such gobbledygook crap backed by the so called London Mayor who lives some and some more miles away. So that our lovely low rise town can be peppered with the abhorrent skyscrapers with all planning rushed through in the second part of August.

    When we mount an opposition at the Councils meetings the councillors whose livelihood we pay for, go to sleep or suffer yawning induced skull fractures.

    The question is, if the English yellow jackets are ignored, what is the next legally allowed step. Some experts say that impelling bullets into corrupt councillors heads are unhygienic and therefore undesirable.

    Does anyone have a meaningful and practical idea?

    Reply
    1. JBird4049

      I don’t really have any suggestions and as much as I like the idea of bringing back tumbrels I think violent revolution is a bad idea. Couldn’t you organize a campaign to vote them out? Very hard in most places, but a few firings might get some attention from the surviving government employees.

      Reply

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