Politics
Construction cranes, reflected in the glass at Amazon's Spheres, in Seattle. Amazon's commitment to construction in Seattle is declining as it prepares to transition more growth to HQ2.
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Construction cranes, reflected in the glass at Amazon's Spheres, in Seattle. Amazon's commitment to construction in Seattle is declining as it prepares to transition more growth to HQ2.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle council members give New York a lesson on what comes with Amazon

Seattle lawmakers are raising warning flags about how Amazon's expansion could affect New York.

Seattle City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Teresa Mosqueda spoke to politicians and labor leaders in New York City on Monday.

They explained that Seattle's housing and homelessness problems have been an incredible challenge since Amazon started to balloon here in 2012.

"Most of us were oblivious to what was happening," Mosqueda said.

She told the room Seattle wasn't able to keep with the demand on housing because "we didn't respond fast enough." Amazon says it added 45,000-thousand direct jobs in Seattle since 2010, and that led to an additional 53,000 new, indirect jobs in the city, which the company says added billions of dollars to the city's economy.

Mosqueda says that growth was not mitigated by the company or by Seattle's elected officials. "We didn't make sure that there was adequate zoning, [or] that we included requirements that would recuperate some of the taxes", she said. Her advice to New York lawmakers: "you have the opportunity now to recuperate those taxes, you have the opportunity now to build in protections."

Mosqueda and Herbold also touched on how Amazon worked to defeat Seattle's short-lived business tax, more commonly known as the head tax. They told the group of New York lawmakers, including state Senator Michael Gianaris, that New York has the leverage to stand up to Amazon that Seattle didn't.

Mosqueda encouraged New York lawmakers to impose housing and tax laws that will prevent the problems that Amazon's expansion could bring.

New York is one of Amazon's new major hubs. Amazon is adding a combined 50,000 jobs to its two new headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, New York and Crystal City, Virginia.

Sen. Gianaris introduced legislation related to Amazon's expansion to ban insider trading in real estate and non-disclosure agreements in economic development deals.

Herbold talked through the labor issues that Amazon workers have experienced. She said Amazon is among the corporations that intentionally circumvents local labor laws, like minimum wage and paid sick and safe leave, by contracting out much of their work.

"Very large numbers of workers," she said," are being classified in cities all over the country as contract workers, and not being given access to the laws that our cities and our states and our nation have fought for decades for."

Monday's event was facilitated by labor-friendly groups Local Progress and The Center for Popular Democracy, and sponsored by Make the Road.

An Amazon spokesperson, in response to the labor event, said, "We’re committed to being a great neighbor – and ensuring our new headquarters is a win for all New Yorkers. Amazon makes substantial positive contributions to the economy, the communities where we operate, and to the lives and careers of our employees. We have created more than 250,000 full-time, full benefit jobs across the U.S. that now have a minimum $15 an hour pay and we have invested more than $160 billion in the U.S. economy since 2011.”