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Could Amazon's Move to NYC Turn the Company Union?

Setting up an HQ in NYC could be the catalyst towards organizing Amazon

Daniel Hinton's picture
Nov 13, 2018

Like millions of people and businesses around the world, Amazon is planning a move to Queens, New York. Unlike everyone else, however, Amazon is the world’s largest Internet retailer owned by the world’s wealthiest person, Jeff Bezos.

Amazon’s economic weight has turned the search for the location of its second headquarters into a full-blown contest. Public officeholders and real estate developers are literally begging, borrowing, and throwing money at Amazon to attract the corporate behemoth.

Nobody really knows what has been said in negotiations between Amazon and New York, but whatever Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill De Blasio, and their friends did seems to have worked.

Amazon is also promising the creation of 50,000 new jobs, which will be split between one new location in Long Island City and another “HQ2” in Arlington County, Virginia. Unlike Amazon’s low-paying warehouse jobs that Bezos profits from, these more specialized jobs at headquarters will reportedly pay six-figure salaries, with some reports that the average salary will be $150,000.

The population of Queens alone is three times the size of Amazon’s hometown, Seattle, yet the economic boost from such a move would still be very significant to the region, especially if residents and unions organize to keep the gains that politicians and financial interests will gladly trade away.

Tens of thousands of high-paying jobs is nothing to yawn at, but organizing the top of the tech sector food chain into a union would be even better. Progress like that at a company this big would set standards across the entire global economy, just like it did last month when raising its minimum wage to $15 per hour for all employees.

Imagine the message a successful organizing drive at “HQ2” would send to companies and workers alike: Bring your business here, and you’ll have the best-paid, most-educated, and happiest workforce.

Outside the workplace, residents and unions in Queens can also organize to extract funding for transportation infrastructure, public schools, and affordable housing leading to an increase in union jobs in construction and education. By helping meet these essential needs, Amazon would be helping itself and the overall economy in the long run.

What we do know is this would take a historic organizing drive to succeed. Relying on the goodwill of Bezos, De Blasio, and their likes won’t get us there. Just look at Seattle, where the City Council buckled under pressure and reversed their decision to tax corporations such as Amazon and Starbucks to fund affordable-housing developments.

Amazon has fought off every union effort so far since its founding in 1994. Organizing drives led by RWDSU at Whole Foods (an Amazon subsidiary) give us hope. So should the fact that one of the largest companies in the world is about to move into the nation’s biggest labor stronghold.

With that in mind, I say we should give Bezos and his business a warm welcome.

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