Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been one of the most outspoken critics of Amazon’s now-abandoned HQ2 plan for New York City, and now the online mega-retailer is hitting back… nicely.
After the young congresswoman criticized Amazon over reports of the inhumane conditions faced by the company’s warehouse workers, an Amazon exec responded with a denial and an offer: come visit our facilities and see for yourself.
“Is that culture of ‘strict performance why Amazon workers have to urinate in bottles & work while on food stamps to meet targets?'” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “‘Performance’ shouldn’t come at the cost of dehumanizing conditions. That’s why we got rid of sweatshops.”
The tweet, which has quite an audience given her 3.6 million Twitter followers, sent Amazon into full-on damage control. The company’s Senior Vice President of Operations Dave Clark pushed back.
“These claims simply aren’t true,” Clark wrote. “We are proud of our jobs with excellent pay ($15 min), benefits from day 1, & lots of other benefits like our Career Choice pre-paid educational programs. Why don’t you come take a tour & see for yourself…we’d love to have you!
.@aoc these claims simply aren’t true. We are proud of our jobs with excellent pay ($15 min), benefits from day 1, & lots of other benefits like our Career Choice pre-paid educational programs. Why don’t you come take a tour & see for yourself…we’d love to have you! https://t.co/BoUccuUKfs
Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t replied to Clark’s invitation as of this writing, nor has she replied to requests for comment from the media. But! Let’s not pretend like Amazon’s totally innocent here.
The company is a massive corporation, with over 618,000 employees worldwide. It’s impossible for any visitor to see the working conditions for all Amazon’s warehouse employees.
And even if she accepts Amazon’s invitation, it’ll almost certainly be a tour of its most scrubbed down facilities with perfectly humane working environments. It’s not like Amazon would ever show her anything bad.
Make no mistake, Clark’s invite is an easy PR tactic to try to win over a politician who’s made a name for herself questioning big business’ tactics. And also probably a ploy to shift the news cycle’s focus in a different direction.
Last week the online retailer invested in self-driving vehicle startup Aurora. On Friday, it announced it was the main investor in an upcoming all-electric truck and SUV company, Rivian.
Amazon leads a group investing $700 million in the company, which debuted itsR1T pickup and R1S SUV at the LA Auto Show in November.
Amazon wants better delivery and logistics, making the electric technology that gives Rivian vehicles more than 400 miles of range very appealing. In a statement, Jeff Wilke, Amazon CEO of Worldwide Consumer, said, “We’re inspired by Rivian’s vision for the future of electric transportation.”
Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe has called his vehicles the Patagonia of EVs, able to handle snow, mud, rain, and tough roads, but still stylish and premium with space for gear. The company hasn’t shared pricing for the “electric adventure vehicles,” but you can preorder the truck and SUV for a $1,000 deposit.
An Amazon spokesperson said it wasn’t giving any additional information beyond Rivian’s announcement.
Production of the five-seater truck and seven-passenger SUV is set to begin in 2020 at the company’s Illinois factory. It’s in something of a race with Tesla, who has been teasing an electric pickup truck that could be unveiled as early as this summer. Tesla is also developing an electric semi cargo truck.
After months of pushback since the original plan was announced, Amazon has finally called it quits on their move to build a headquarters in Long Island City, New York. The e-commerce giant will now entertain 20 other finalists who were in the mix for the spot. These locations include Newark, New Jersey and Nashville, Tennessee.
Many New Yorkers are to abandon its plans for another headquarters in Queens. But its decision to scuttle plans for an HQ2 altogether rubs salt in the wounds of smaller cities hoping to become the next Silicon Valley.
One of the justifications for the immense wealth that flows through Silicon Valley and into the pockets of billionaires like Jeff Bezos is the promise of jobs. Tech provides jobs! And jobs are … good? Yeah, jobs are good.
This was an argument that Amazon alluded to when it announced in September 2017 that it was soliciting proposals from cities to become the location of its next HQ2. In addition to the sheer prestige of becoming the home of an Amazon headquarters, Amazon promised “50,000 high paying jobs.”
As the volume of city applications showed, this was an alluring prospect for metropolises such as New York and Los Angeles, as well smaller cities including Huntsville, Alabama, and Omaha, Nebraska.
When Amazon announced the contest, the prospect that a major tech headquarters could go in an unlikely city — perhaps one that was victim to manufacturing erosion and population flight — was an exciting one. Former industrial centers like Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, made it to the top 20. Could the revitalization of the Rust Belt start with Amazon?
Sure, it was clear Amazon was looking for tax breaks, incentives, and a pliable local government. But the contest created a sense of hope that tech could bring jobs to a city badly in need, even if it was a moon shot.
So for a city that has come up with the short end of the technology industry stick, those promised 50,000 Amazon jobs might entice talent to live somewhere they might not otherwise choose. And the presence of well-paid Amazon employees could bring coffee shops, markets, and restaurants, and the service jobs that come with them.
This rosy vision was not to be. Amazon dashed many smaller cities’ hopes when it announced a shortlist of 20 cities, with only seven of the 20 finalists not on a coast.
Finally, Amazon announced that New York City had won the contest. New York City — already a hub of industries like finance, media, and fashion — would get 25,000 more jobs. (Most of the others will go to a new headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.)
NYC residents were not pleased. Amazon said that the HQ2 would go in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City. Critics said this would cause rents to skyrocket even further and an already overburdened transit system to bear still more passengers. At the same time, New York was cutting Bezos and Co. $3 billion in tax breaks. With the subway in disrepair and a housing and homelessness crisis, New Yorkers felt that this was a deal that would take more than it would give.
Amazon announced Thursday that it would not move forward with Amazon HQ2 in New York City. This is a victory for the activists who rallied against it, the residents of Long Island City who were set to be priced out of their homes, and anyone who likes to see a mega-corporation lose a battle.
But the people lost this one too.
Alongside its announcement about the scuttled NYC plans, Amazon informed the public that it would not choose a new site for HQ2. The Cincinnatis and Tulsas of the world were not to get a second shot.
Amazon’s bad New York decision left room for redemption. Bezos, Amazon, and the tech industry as a whole have faced more (valid) criticism than ever before about how tech works for the few, but not the many. Placing HQ2 in a struggling city was a chance to prove a counter-narrative, while getting plenty of tax breaks in the process.
And perhaps tech does have the ability to do what its champions say: connect people, provide jobs, bring together a community of innovators. Just only in glamorous, wealthy, heavily populated areas.
If tech has proved anything, it is that it prioritizes the disruptive ideas by and for the upper class at the expense of average Americans. As the company behind both the world’s richest man and rampant worker abuse, Amazon is perhaps a prime example of the inequality the tech industry has wrought.
Believing that Amazon could have made a choice with the health of a general population in mind — and not just its bottom line — belies a misunderstanding of how the industry functions. It was a lie some optimists chose to believe. And now, nearly everyone is disappointed.
There is likely no one more distraught over Amazon’s decision to cancel its plans to build a second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens than New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“Amazon chose to come to New York because we are the capital of the world and the best place to do business,” said Governor Cuomo in a statement after Amazon’s announcement on Thursday. “However, a small group [of] politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community.”
Governor Cuomo was instrumental in bringing Amazon’s HQ2 to the city. The governor helped secure a deal with Amazon, which saw the company receiving a total of $3 billion tax incentives.
Cuomo had also joked about changing his first name to “Amazon” in order to persuade the e-commerce giant to pick New York over hundreds of other cities.
Unlike New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow HQ2 supporter who blamed Amazon for pulling out of the deal, Governor Cuomo claims the New York State Senate is at fault.
Many local politicians had criticized the deal due to the enormous tax break offered to Amazon as well as the company’s anti-union stance.
“The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage,” said the governor in his statement. “They should be held accountable for this lost economic opportunity.”
In Amazon’s announcement on Thursday, the company thanked Governor Cuomo for his support on the project. The company also hinted at the possibility of a partnership with New York in the future.
The governor’s full statement on Amazon’s cancelled HQ2 is below:
Amazon chose to come to New York because we are the capital of the world and the best place to do business. We competed in and won the most hotly contested national economic development competition in the United States, resulting in at least 25,000-40,000 good paying jobs for our state and nearly $30 billion dollars in new revenue to fund transit improvements, new housing, schools and countless other quality of life improvements. Bringing Amazon to New York diversified our economy away from real estate and Wall Street, further cementing our status as an emerging center for tech and was an extraordinary economic win not just for Queens and New York City, but for the entire region, from Long Island to Albany’s nanotech center.
However, a small group politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community — which poll after poll showed overwhelmingly supported bringing Amazon to Long Island City — the state’s economic future and the best interests of the people of this state. The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage. They should be held accountable for this lost economic opportunity.
The fundamentals of New York’s business climate and community that attracted amazon to be here – our talent pool, world-class education system, commitment to diversity and progressivism – remain and we won’t be deterred as we continue to attract world class business to communities across New York State.