Let the rat race begin! This past week Amazon, the world’s largest online shopping retailer, unveiled plans to open a second North American headquarters as a counterpart to its base in Seattle. Well it’s not exactly a plan, more like a lottery that its dangling in front of every major city with a population over a million people. Amazon is giving cities just six weeks to present proposals that conform to Amazon’s stipulations. By holding an auction, Amazon, much like the World Cup or The Olympics, is dictating its requirements in which city governments, along with the real estate interests they serve, will compete against one another in an absurd race to the bottom to desperately woo Amazon. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and Baltimore are throwing their hats in the ring trying to outdo one another in a perverse courting ritual. Cities across the country are planning to submit proposals that will ultimately attempt to throw working people under the bus by providing massive tax breaks and concessions that will do little to benefit or advance working people’s interests. Cities are going to battle each other like gladiators with Amazon serving as the emperor, and the only casualties will be working people’s aspirations.
If there is any city that’s well prepared to do battle, it’s New York. As far as potential goes, being the largest city and market in the country is sure to help. It also might help that Amazon has already made inroads in New York. Just last week while I was mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across the news that Amazon announced its plans to open one of its notoriously cruel, gigantic distribution warehouses in Staten Island of all places. Apparently, it would be the first such facility in the state. Amazon claims that the facility will create a whopping 2,250 “permanent” jobs, making it the largest employer (and exploiter) in the borough. As expected a flurry of press releases from the offices of local and state politicians, including the governor, went out celebrating how wonderful the warehouse is going to be for the local and state economy. Not one of those press releases mentioned the fact that however “permanent” those jobs might be, not one of them will be protected by a union. They also made no mention of the cavalier use of union busting tactics as well as the unfair labor practice allegations made by workers in Amazon warehouses across the nation. Workers have been routinely harassed in a toxic anti-union culture that is pervasive in the company. Amazon has even fired its workers for attempting to unionize their shop. A well-known case took place in a Seattle warehouse back in 2001 when Amazon fired 850 workers amid a unionization drive.
Nor did those same politicians make any mention of the massive tax payer funded corporate welfare package that the New York State Economic Development Corporation (NYSEDC) was gifting to Amazon for its thoughtfulness in coming here. New Yorkers will be subsidizing Amazon in the form of a “tax credit” to the tune of $18 million—all for a company that is one of the wealthiest in the world. According to FactSet data, [ADD LINK] Amazon is valued at more the $430 billion. That’s more than Australia’s 2016 national budget. It doesn’t look to me like Amazon is need of any handouts. Of course, according to the NYSEDC, Amazon will only be given a tax break with the guarantee that it will maintain at least 886 jobs in the state for the next five years. After the five years are up and Amazon becomes more reliant on automation, though, who knows how many jobs will be left.
New York is also betting on hipster, tech-friendly Brooklyn (a borough which itself has become a brand) to entice Amazon to move its new headquarters there. In a recent article, Crain’s NY reported that a group of developers such as Rubenstein Partners, Forest City Ratner and Jamestown Properties, the latter of which owns the massive Industry City in Sunset Park, are joining forces to lure Amazon to the booming and increasingly unaffordable Brooklyn waterfront. If Amazon were to choose to settle in Brooklyn the consequences would be dire for thriving and self-sustaining working-class communities of color like Sunset Park. Rent would skyrocket to capitalize on the estimated 50,000 new employees who would logically want to live close to where they work. The average salary for an Amazon white collar employ is around $100,000, while the median house hold income for a Sunset Park family is $39,834 a year. The numbers speak for themselves. You can kiss working class Brooklyn goodbye. It would be gentrification on steroids.
It’s clear to me that there must be a massive public policy shift in our country that doesn’t allow multinational corporations to bully our cities into submission. Cities shouldn’t have to fight over crumbs that corporations throw down to us. I have yet to learn about a trickle down economics success story. Instead, corporations must suit the city’s interests and adapt themselves to its needs. No incentive should be given that compromises the interests of working people in favor of the will of any soulless company. Tax breaks for corporations should be universally abolished. Imagine what could be accomplished if all the money that would otherwise be collected from corporate taxes were invested into the very communities that make this city function. Unless there is a working-class movement to challenge the status quo, the only thing you’ll have to remember the old Sunset Park by is an e-book that you bought on your Kindle.