After months of fierce opposition from local leaders, the New York Times reports that Amazon has decided to pull out of its plans to place a new satellite headquarters in the Long Island City neighbourhood of Queens, New York.
While some polls showed New Yorkers generally in favour of the project – which was projected to bring 25,000 jobs in exchange for economic incentives many saw as exorbitant – legislators put up fierce resistance to deal, which they criticised for being carried out in secret.
A major inflection point occurred at a New York City Council hearing late last month, where Amazon representatives affirmed the company’s opposition to the unionisation of its workers. Even Governor Andrew Cuomo, an outspoken proponent of the HQ2 deal, criticised Amazon’s stance as inconsistent. “New York State is a union town, and they should know that,” the governor wrote in a statement.
Local politicians like Council Member Jimmy van Bramer and state Senator Mike Gianaris have been at the forefront of the resistance to the deal, which also included a grassroots coalition of local advocates including Make the Road, the Tech Workers Coalition, the Democratic Socialists of America, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, and the Teamsters. Gianaris was expected to take a seat on the Public Authorities Control Board, which would have had to approve the deal unanimously.
“We fought for our values,” van Bramer said during a press conference this afternoon at Gordon Triangle, near the proposed HQ2 cite, and the location of one of the first public protests against the deal. “Even when we were faced with the richest man in the world and the wealthiest corporation in the world we did not buckle [...] Amazon’s values are not New York’s values.” He was joined by representatives from Make the Road, RWDSU, and State Senator Jessica Ramos, as well as a handful of hecklers, one of whom threatened “I’ll be here when your photo-op’s done.”
David Mertz, New York City Director of RWDSU, told reporters that the people have a right to be angry. “[Amazon] flipped off the city of New York. That makes me angry,” he said, “All we were asking was for them to try to be a responsible corporate citizen. That’s it. And they told us to go to hell.”
Council Speaker Corey Johnson characterized Amazon’s decision as a positive outcome for NYC residents.
“I look forward to working with companies that understand that if you’re willing to engage with New Yorkers and work through challenging issues, New York City is the world’s best place to do business,” Johnson said in a statement. “I hope this is the start of a conversation about vulture capitalism and where our tax dollars are best spent. I know I’d choose mass transit over helipads any day.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—who worked alongside Cuomo to craft the Amazon HQ2 deal in secret—is now deriding the company for ditching the plan. “You have to be tough to make it in New York City We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world,” he said in a statement. “Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity.”
Mike Gianaris, who streamed a short press conference on Periscope, said New York’s effective rejection of HQ2 “should be a launching point to discuss the logic of these corporate subsidies” such as the Foxconn debacle in Wisconsin. “There’s a reason Europe bans subsidies like this,” Gianaris said, “and we should take a long, hard look at whether or not we should do the same thing.”
Part of Amazon’s long, public search for a second headquarters resulted in not one but two locations being chosen: New York and Virginia. While there has been some local resistance to the other HQ2, approval for $750 million in subsidies for the sister project nearer to the nation’s capital passed the state House of Representatives in under ten minutes.
Amazon’s decision was made public on the company’s blog, and is reproduced below in full:
After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens. For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term. While polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.
We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion – we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture – and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents. There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams.
We are deeply grateful to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and their staffs, who so enthusiastically and graciously invited us to build in New York City and supported us during the process. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have worked tirelessly on behalf of New Yorkers to encourage local investment and job creation, and we can’t speak positively enough about all their efforts. The steadfast commitment and dedication that these leaders have demonstrated to the communities they represent inspired us from the very beginning and is one of the big reasons our decision was so difficult.
We do not intend to reopen the HQ2 search at this time. We will proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville, and we will continue to hire and grow across our 17 corporate offices and tech hubs in the U.S. and Canada.
Thank you again to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and the many other community leaders and residents who welcomed our plans and supported us along the way. We hope to have future chances to collaborate as we continue to build our presence in New York over time.
Senator Bernie Sanders, an outspoken critic of Amazon, provided the following statement regarding Amazon’s decision to cut and run:
The people of New York and America are increasingly concerned about the power of large multinational corporations and the billions in corporate welfare they receive. Our job is to end the race to the bottom where taxpayers in one city or state are forced to bid against each other for desperately needed jobs. This is what the rigged economy is all about. I congratulate New Yorkers for standing up to the power of Amazon.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also weighed in on the collapse of the HQ2 deal. “It shows that everyday Americans still have the power to organize and fight for their communities, “ she said, “and they can have more say in this country than the richest man in the world.”
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) February 15, 2019
Amid the flurry of news that Amazon would both pull out of the New York headquarters and not seek to reopen a search for a replacement base of operations, the company also announced it would be capping its expansion in its home city of Seattle.
Featured image: Stephanie Keith (Getty)