BY BENJAMIN FANG
A coalition of labor unions, business groups and community organizations rallied at City Hall on January 30 in support of Amazon’s HQ2 deal.
Leading the way was Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council, who argued that the deal represents thousands of good-paying, union construction jobs, as well as union jobs for the service employees at 32BJ SEIU.
“There is no reason for anyone in the City Council to oppose this,” he said.
LaBarbera said he’s close to both the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and the Teamsters, and insisted they are not opposed to Amazon’s arrival.
“They want an opportunity to sit down with Amazon, I believe that Amazon recognizes where they are,” he said. “Amazon has shown good faith to the unions.”
The deal would bring at least 25,000 jobs to Queens, with an average salary of $150,000. The waterfront campus could be as large as 8 million square feet.
Alison Hirsch, political director for 32BJ, added that the union is keeping its eyes on the prize, which are good-paying jobs.
“Amazon is not stupid, they know that New York City is the strongest union town in the United States of America,” she said. “They’re going to come here and be part of the civic fabric of this community and take on all of the responsibilities that come with that.”
Other union supporters at that rally included unions representing steamfitters, ironworkers and sheet metal workers.
Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership, said HQ2 was the culmination of three decades of work to make the neighborhood a live-work-play space that companies want come to.
“Amazon chose Long Island City because they wanted to be in a great neighborhood,” she said, “but also because they wanted to help shape their future home in a way that’s good for everybody.”
Lusskin added that, in addition to their investment in computer science education and workforce development, Amazon designs their facilities to encourage employees to get out into the neighborhood. She believes this will generate more revenue for small businesses in the area.
Queens Chamber president and CEO Thomas Grech said Amazon coming to western Queens marks a shift of the tech scene from the West to the East Coast. He said the borough has become a “hotbed for further development.”
He added that he hopes the young people who work in those Amazon jobs will have their own startup firms and open them in the borough.
“They’ll do it right here in Queens County,” Grech said, “and that will spawn a whole bunch of other jobs and development as well.”
City and state officials have said the deal would generate $27 billion in tax revenue over 25 years.
At the City Council hearing, Economic Development Corporation president James Patchett said the $13.5 billion in taxes could be spent on programs like 3-K For All, almost 300,000 units of affordable housing, or pay for 5,600 new public school teachers.
“With this additional revenue, some of our boldest, most progressive ideals can become policies and our greatest needs are more likely to be met,” he said.
Amazon vice president of public policy Brian Huseman also announced new concessions to the community.
The company will hire public housing residents for their customer service department, and will begin taking applications next quarter.
The tech giant has also enrolled 130 New York City high schools in their “Amazon Future Engineer” program, which provides funding and instruction for computer science education. One in four Queens high schools are now enrolled.
Finally, Huseman said, Amazon is teaming up with CUNY and SUNY to launch a new certificate program for cloud computer, a growing field in the technology industry. LaGuardia Community College will introduce the program this fall.
“We are in favor of the positive economic impact this project will bring to this city,” he said.