Public Outrage Over Corporate Handouts

 On December 12th, a #NoAmazon rally ignited on the steps of City Hall in opposition to Amazon’s second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens. Hosted by NYC DA Tech Association, a variety of speakers ranging from non-profits to previous Amazon employees, joined forces to publicly vocalize the dangers of HQ2. $3 billion of public money will be going to the wealthiest company on Earth, while surrounding neighborhoods face displacement.

The deal was done behind closed doors, with no negotiation around affordable housing and protections for small businesses. This lack of transparency coupled with investment in big business over people has caused distrust in elected officials, and has left minority communities particularly vulnerable.

Miguel Adams of Vocal New York gave a deeply saddening speech about his displacement due to gentrification, ultimately pushing him to homelessness. Like Miguel, many others fear that they will be forced out of their homes due to rent increases across the board and growing landlord harassment. At a time when there is lack of funding in public education, transit and housing, it seems immoral and fiscally imprudent to give corporate handouts.

The community is open to new jobs and business opportunities, but not for corporations who have a track record of being anti-Union and anti-worker’s rights. The GMB union stated that “Ambulances have been called to Amazon’s UK warehouses more than 600 times in the past three years amid concerns over dangerous working practices”. Here in the U.S, there have been similarly disturbing stories.

A former Amazon worker (Ibrahim) told his story of mistreatment, and violations of basic human rights within the workplace. Ibrahim was terminated from Amazon for refusing to work 12 hours back to back for 6 days a week.  Ibrahim expressed how “Workers were not treated as human, and would end up in hospitals.” Another former Amazon employee (Ally) shared how workers were commonly shamed for taking breaks, even for two minutes to use the restroom. If workers demanded fair treatment, they would be terminated and replaced.

In addition to being overworked to the point of hospitalization, the working conditions were described as “hazardous”.  A current activist of Make the Road New York, told the story of an Amazon worker who could not make it to the rally. The letter stated how unbearably hot the warehouses were and how there was no air conditioning during the summer. Amazon refused to give their workers air conditioning, with their reasoning being that it would not be good for the robots. It was blatantly obvious that this company values protecting their products, far more than their people. All the former employees of Amazon felt that their lives were in jeopardy. Making the situation even harder, if they spoke out about these conditions to management, then their jobs and livelihoods would also be in jeopardy. Amazon is promising 25,000 jobs to LIC, but are these the kinds of conditions and treatment we want our families and friends to be subjected to?

Many of the concerns that the communities of Queens are raising have already been experienced in Amazon’s current HQ. A resident of Seattle named Kim shared the detrimental impact that Amazon had on her home.  As promised Amazon brought many jobs- 50,000 of them. Seattle housing costs skyrocketed and people who had lived there for their whole lives were forced out into the suburbs. The Seattle Time states that “Since Amazon’s growth spurt started in 2010, home prices in Seattle have soared 80 percent while rents have grown 69 percent, both among the biggest in the country”.

To better protect vulnerable communities, City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, led a campaign to pass a head tax for affordable housing. In response, Amazon and other big business worked diligently to overturn the bill, giving millions to an anti-tax campaign known as “No Tax on Jobs”. Amazon, a company worth $1 trillion denied a tax rate of $275 per employee, that would have alleviated homelessness. When asked to contribute to the community they have dismantled, their response was an unapologetic and hard no. At the end of her speech, Seattle resident Kim begged “Please, don’t let Amazon do to New York what it has done to Seattle.”

The despicable kowtowing to corporate interests and misuse of public funds was best summarized by Ron Kim from the Members of Assembly of Queens, “When the economy is failing we give trillions of dollars to big banks…When the economy is booming we give billions of dollars to big corporations. This is a designed failure. There is an opportunity right now to undo this, to unrig the system. The first step is getting clarity and transparency. Hold Amazon and other mega corporations accountable, and focus on people over corporations”.

This is what the #NoAmazonNYC is working towards, being for the people by the people. The rally closed two hours later with a purposeful chant, “What do we do when we’re under attack? Stand up, fight back!”

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