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Queens Chronicle

Amazon returns ... but it’s not HQ2

Crain’s reports company is closing in on warehouse in Maspeth

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Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2019 10:30 am

As Amazon closes in on opening a warehouse on Grand Avenue in Maspeth, 42 elected officials wrote the online retail giant expressing concern about dangerous working conditions in its warehouses.

Amazon is closing in on the approximately 700,000-square-foot warehouse at 55-15 Grand Ave, according to Crain’s. The Real Deal reported in 2018 that RXR Realty planned to build a multistory warehouse at the property that was bought for $72 million by LBA Logistics.

“I would welcome an Amazon facility that brings hundreds of jobs to the neighborhood if that is the case, and I would work closely with them to facilitate a good relationship with the community,” Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) said in a statement Wednesday.

Amazon didn’t respond to a question regarding the impending move.

The safety of Amazon’s warehouses has come into question. A Reveal investigation from the Center for Investigative Reporting found the rate of serious injuries for 23 facilities studied was more than double the national average for the warehousing industry. There were 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time workers in 2018. The industry average was four.

In the New York Post, Maureen Donnelly, a former employee at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse, detailed her nightmares working for the company, calling it “cult-like,” days after workers and supporters gathered outside the facility to protest working conditions.

In a letter signed by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), Rep. Max Rose (D-Staten Island) and 39 other lawmakers, the signees wrote in support of the workers.

“We will be watching to be sure that Amazon management responds supportively to address and remedy the workers’ concerns,” the letter reads. “And we assure you that we will not tolerate any retaliation or adverse action of any sort against these courageous workers for speaking up.”

Amazon told the Post that “There’s a dramatic level of under-recording of safety incidents across the industry — we recognized this in 2016 and began to take an aggressive stance on recording injuries no matter how big or small. It’s inaccurate to say that Amazon fulfillment centers are unsafe.”

The company had planned to build a second headquarters in Long Island City but pulled out on Valentine’s Day following backlash from lawmakers and the community.

Critics decried the $3 billion in subsidies the company was to receive and the helipad Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was to receive.

But the company will open an office at Hudson Yards in Manhattan in 2021. About 1,500 employees will work there.

“Amazon is coming to New York, just as they always planned,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), an opponent of the LIC plan, said in a statement. “Fortunately, we dodged a $3 billion bullet by not agreeing to their subsidy shakedown earlier this year.”

Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio had negotiated the deal to bring the company to LIC.

“This is crumbs from the table compared to a feast,” Cuomo told the Associated Press after the news came of Amazon’s move to Manhattan. “We don’t have a problem bringing businesses to Manhattan but we have been trying for decades to get that Queens waterfront developed.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx, Queens), a vocal opponent of the company, tweeted in the wake of the Hudson Yards announcement.

“Won’t you look at that: Amazon is coming to NYC anyway — *without* requiring the public to finance shady deals, helipad handouts for Jeff Bezos & corporate giveaways,” she said.

Another tweet had a picture of her relaxing on a couch with the words “Me waiting on the haters to apologize after we were proven right on Amazon and saved the public billions.”

She also tweeted about “GOP disinfo.”

“The 25,000 jobs figure was 10-20 year fantasy # from Amazon, not a promise or agreement,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “In exchange for that lack of commitment, they wanted billions of public $. Their Y1 jobs projection was 700.”

Another point of contention during the Amazon negotiations was the company’s opposition to unions.

During a City Council hearing in January, Amazon Vice President Brian Huseman said the company would oppose unionizing attempts among its workers in the city.

“You are in a union city,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) said. “This is not a way to come to our city, a city where 20 percent of our people live at or below the poverty line.”

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) was one of the company’s most vocal opponents, saying Amazon did not work with the community when attempting to come to Queens.

He ripped the company for its anti-union stance at the hearing.

“Shame on you, shame on your corporation for coming to New York City, because both you and I believe the administration have made a distinction somehow that because this is a headquarters, those people working those buildings don’t need representation, don’t deserve to be in a union,” Van Bramer said.

“All workers should have the right to be in a union, all workers should have the right.”

Holden was asked Wednesday about the company’s union policies.

“I don’t want to condemn a company that offers people a chance to earn a living just because it hasn’t unionized,” he said in an email. “People who really need a job probably won’t be picky about that, and they can choose not to apply if they would prefer to be a union member.”

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