Amazon's plans to build its HQ2 in New York City in exchange for nearly $ 3 billion in government grants, split the city's most powerful unions ̵
Amazon trades for Sellouts
Amazon is set to bring thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars to New York City. This mark …
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Everyone in organized labor knows that uniting Amazon, perhaps the most influential and powerful company in America, would be a bargain. It would also have the potential to derive a full-scale transformation of retail and blue collar work that would leave workers desperately, underpaid, and with few alternatives. It is important. And since New York City is the most pro-union place in the country, Amazon's entry into the city is generally seen as a chance to finally take down the great white whales of modern corporate America.
But the cracks in the front of the work association came immediately after the agreement was announced last year. The building associations, along with 32BJ SEIU, one of the city's strongest and most aggressive trade unions, covering real estate service workers, announced their support for the HQ2 project. Amazon had agreed to use trade union builders and to maintain an existing agreement that 32BJ had in place to use professional security and construction workers, but it was important that none of the employees would be direct employees of Amazon itself.
On the other hand, the Retail Workers Union [RWDSU] has launched a campaign to unite a new Amazon store on Staten Island. Along with Teamsters and a broad coalition of social and work groups, RWDSU is highly opposed to the Amazon Agreement and the granting of large public subsidies to a company with terrible registration of opposition unions and poor treatment of workers. This split in the city's unions came to mind in this week when 32BJ held a pro-Amazon rally and RWDSU and its allies held an anti-Amazon rally, while an Amazon director told the city council that the company is planning to oppose any association campaigns it faces here.
It is not a convincing demonstration of solidarity in work, to say the least.
In an interview today, Hector Figueroa, the leader of 32BJ, said that other unions are unreasonable if they expect the Union to give up its own gains to obtain a broader organized labor unlike Amazon in NYC. "We have a fundamental dispute over strategy," he said. "The demand for neutrality [by Amazon in union campaigns] is a good one and I hope they win. But the expectation that we have to make the same demand and not keep up with our deal is quite frankly irresponsible."
Figueroa said that while he supports the idea of a unified Amazon workforce, is his first responsibility to his own members, and that those who criticize him keep their union at an unreasonably high standard. He is grateful that Amazon decided to maintain the agreement 32BJ had with the site's developers and said that the company could just as well decide to say it would not maintain it. That gratitude is now evident as public support from its association for the agreement, and that its support is used as a political cover by Amazon to ignore the criticism of other unions. But Figueroa says the time to push political leaders to become professional had part of the deal been before Amazon chose NYC for HQ2, not now. And he says that, in addition to the (non-Amazon) union job that his own union will get on the sites, only the New York City company is more likely to be unionized in the long run. Despite the HQ2 agreement's controversy here, he says: "The good outweighs the bad."
This review is definitely not shared by RWDSU's leader Stuart Appelbaum. "The poor far outweighs," he says. "Unless Amazon changes the way it works, generations of New Yorkers end up complaining about this deal."
RWDSU, which also runs campaigns to unify the Amazon New York warehouse and the labor force of Amazon-owned Whole Foods, has long been in the public domain of Amazon's business practices. (Although they have made the case publicly and in the media, Appelbaum says they and other unions were not asked for direct recording on the NYC HQ2 bid, because the process was hidden in secrecy.) Appelbaum sees today's attempts to exploit widespread dissatisfaction with New York's HQ2 subsidy package to create a favorable atmosphere for its association campaigns as part of a much larger organizational cushion than any local squabble. And while he is quick to say that "our fight is not with other unions", he also says he hopes that other unions that are in charge of obtaining HQ2 adjoining deals "would not oppose what is so important to the whole workers' movement: that the Amazon's own workers are unionized. "
In an ideal world, all trade unions would be shoulder to shoulder, united in the fundamental battle between labor and capital. In practice, unions in America, which now represent barely more than one in ten workers, are often bowed to the temptation to grasp any gains they may find, even if that means another union loses something. No one fails 32BJ to secure association contracts for people working on sites that Amazon is seeking to use; But the action of proclaiming its public support to the Amazon agreement, even though organized labor is trying to present a united front against it, is another question altogether. Hector Figueroa says he "doesn't at all undermine" what the other unions are trying to do – but that would surely be a surprise to anyone who understands the concept of "providing political coverage" and who heard the Amazon leadership quietly tells the city Council that the company will continue to disturb the association here.
"If Amazon is allowed to enter New York and remain aggressively anti-union," says Stuart Appelbaum, "it fools the future of all workers. "