City Council grills Amazon about LIC HQ2 at 3-hour hearing

Protesters disrupt the second of four City Council hearings over Amazon's planned HQ2 in Long Island City on Wednesday.
Protesters disrupt the second of four City Council hearings over Amazon’s planned HQ2 in Long Island City on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and company on Wednesday turned up the heat again on Amazon and de Blasio administration leaders — accompanied by a swarm of protesters — over the tech giant’s labor policies as it prepares its massive move into Queens.

The second of four Council hearings focused on the economic impact of the $2.5 billion, 4 million-square-foot campus in western Queens, and the 25,000 new full-time jobs that Amazon plans to bring in. However, much of the three-hour hearing focused on Amazon’s potential relationship with unions and the rights of its workers to unionize. 

Johnson asked Brian Huseman, the vice president of public policy at Amazon, if the corporation was willing to commit to neutrality if its New York City workers organized.

"No we cannot commit to that," Huseman said to loud jeers from the packed Council chambers. 

Union groups protest the deal on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday.
Union groups protest the deal on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The speaker later turned his attention to Economic Development Corporation President James Patchett, and asked whether the city thought it was appropriate to give Amazon nearly $3 billion in incentives when it couldn’t commit to New York’s long-standing pro-labor practices. Patchett contended that the EDC has implored the tech giant to work with the city’s unions, especially when it comes to constructing the Long Island City campus.

"What we emphasized to them is that union rights were critical, and we have very strong laws in the city," Patchett said.

Before the hearing, several union groups, including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), rallied outside City Hall demanding that Amazon pledge that it would not interfere with unionization efforts. 

"It is irrational for New York to give taxpayer-funded subsidies to one of the most anti-worker, anti-union corporations in the world," RWDSU President Stuart Applebaum said. 

Two unions, the Building and Construction Trades Council and 32BJ, later held a separate rally in support of Amazon, claiming the deal will result in good jobs for their members. The two unions reached a deal that covered development plans on the location where Amazon will now be building in Queens, and Amazon has agreed to honor that arrangement and work with their members, according to a 32BJ representative. 

"We also believe that the right to organize and collectively bargain needs to be respected and, as such, we support these multiple efforts carried out (by) all kinds of unions and community organizations in New York and elsewhere," 32BJ president Hector Figueroa said in a statement, after being asked about Amazon not committing to remain neutral about organization efforts.

In the meantime, Amazon testified that it has begun its outreach to the Long Island City community. 

On Tuesday, the company announced a cloud computing certification program at LaGuardia Community College as well as funding for 130 city public high schools’ computer science programs. Huseman said Amazon also will hire 30 Queensbridge House tenants this spring to work at its customer service center.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer dismissed their announcements as inadequate measures to address the community’s concerns, especially considering the company has spent the last month distributing flyers to Queens residents lobbying for the deal.

"You are spending more on those garbage mailers than you are for the people at Queensbridge," he told Huseman.

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