A coalition of community groups sent an open letter to Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos on Tuesday asking the company to forgo tax breaks and invest in the civic health of whichever city the retail giant chooses for HQ2.
The monthlong public courtship to become Amazon’s second headquarters has focused on what cities are prepared to offer the retail giant.
A coalition of community groups is trying to reverse that dynamic, publishing an open letter on Tuesday that asks Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos to forgo tax breaks and invest in the civic health of whichever city the company chooses for HQ2.
“We’re expecting Amazon to pay your fair share if you end up being our neighbor,” says the letter, signed by representatives of dozens of labor groups, community organizing committees and policy researchers who advocate for equitable urban development.
The letter outlines a list of requests of Amazon, including protection of workers rights, investment in education programs that get students ready for high-tech roles at HQ2, support for mass transit, and helping to keep affordable housing available as the company settles in.
“We’re trying to say that Amazon can’t just run the table in this transaction, there have to be community benefits attached,” said Greg Leroy, director of Good Jobs First, which tracks public subsidies to private companies, and a signatory of the letter. “There can’t just be this huge burden shift in which everybody else pays for the growth that gets induced” by Amazon, he said.
Amazon declined to comment on the letter.
Amazon started an economic development gold rush last month when it announced it was seeking a second headquarters site somewhere in North America. The company envisions a corporate campus of up to 50,000 people over more than a decade, and plans to invest about $5 billion building it.
In its request for proposals, Amazon said tax breaks and other incentives that offset its costs would be a significant factor in its decision. Politicians, eager to land the biggest economic development prize of the decade, rushed to line up those incentives. A high-water mark so far: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday backed a plan to offer $7 billion in tax breaks to lure Amazon to Newark.
Not everyone has been willing to open up the public purse.
San Jose, California, Mayor Sam Liccardo said his city would offer Amazon nothing. “The harder work of investing public dollars in schools, infrastructure and amenities takes years of concerted effort but has far greater payoff” than tax breaks to corporations, he wrote in The Wall Street Journal.
Separately, San Antonio appeared to take itself out of the running. Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told Bezos in a letter that “blindly giving away the farm isn’t our style.”
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Tuesday’s open letter asks Amazon to publicly negotiate and enter into a community benefits agreement, a type of contract typically struck between corporate developers and community groups, committing the business to keeping specific promises to the area.
The letter’s signatories, almost entirely regional rather than national organizations, many in cities said to be likely Amazon bidders, include groups with expertise negotiating such agreements.
Seattle’s Puget Sound Sage, for example, participated in a landmark deal in 2008 to add affordable housing and other concessions to the redevelopment of a former Goodwill property on Seattle’s South Dearborn Street. (The agreement proved moot when the developer bailed on the project the following year.)
Other signers, including local chapters of the Service Employees International Union and the Chicago Teachers Union, come from organized labor. Workers organizations have tried without success to organize Amazon’s workforce, and particularly its now 125,000-employee strong warehousing and logistics arm.
Amazon’s core corporate employees, like the vast majority of high-tech companies, aren’t unionized, either. The company says its business model relies on rapid changes and flexibility, and believes its workers don’t need a union.
Tuesday’s letter asks Amazon to remain neutral in organizing drives involving workers at its new campus, and to improve working conditions at its existing warehouses.
“We wanted to make sure we drove home the point that communities want to be at the table,” said Nikki Fortunato Bas, executive director of the Partnership for Working Families, which helped coordinate the letter. “We want to make sure that this second headquarters benefits our community in many ways.”