The first word I had that Amazon was about to scrap an agreement to bring 25,000 new jobs to New York City came an hour before it broke in the news on Thursday.
The call was brief and there was little explanation for the company’s reversal.
Just days before, I had counseled a senior Amazon executive about how they could win over some of their critics. Meet with organized labor. Start hiring public housing residents. Invest in infrastructure and other community needs. Show you care about fairness and creating opportunity for the working people of Long Island City.
There was a clear path forward. Put simply: If you don’t like a small but vocal group of New Yorkers questioning your company’s intentions or integrity, prove them wrong.
Instead, Amazon proved them right. Just two hours after a meeting with residents and community leaders to move the project forward, the company abruptly canceled it all.
I am a lifelong progressive who sees the problem of growing income and wealth inequality. The agreement we struck with Amazon back in November was a solid foundation. It would have created: at least 25,000 new jobs, including for unionized construction and service workers; partnerships with public colleges; and $27 billion in new tax revenue to fuel priorities from transit to affordable housing — a ninefold return on the taxes the city and state were prepared to forgo to win the headquarters.
The retail giant’s expansion in New York encountered opposition in no small part because of growing frustration with corporate America. For decades, wealth and power have concentrated at the very top. There’s no greater example of this than Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos — the richest man in the world.
The lesson here is that corporations can’t ignore rising anger over economic inequality anymore. We see that anger roiling Silicon Valley, in the rocks hurled at buses carrying tech workers from San Francisco and Oakland to office parks in the suburbs. We see it in the protests that erupted at Davos last month over the growing monopoly of corporate power.
Amazon’s capricious decision to take its ball and go home, in the face of protest, won’t diminish that anger.
The city and state were holding up our end. And more important, a sizable majority of New Yorkers were on board. Support for the new headquarters was strongest in communities of color and among working people who too often haven’t gotten the economic opportunity they deserved. A project that could’ve opened a path to the middle class for thousands of families was scuttled by a few very powerful people sitting in a boardroom in Seattle.
In the end, Amazon seemed unwilling to bend or even to talk in earnest with the community about ways to shape their project. They didn’t want to be in a city where they had to engage critics at all. And it’s a pattern. When Seattle’s City Council passed a tax on big employers to fund the battle against homelessness, the company threatened to stop major expansion plans, putting 7,000 jobs at risk. The tax was rescinded.
Economic power — the kind that allows you to dangle 50,000 jobs and billions in revenue over every metropolitan area in the country — is being steadily concentrated into fewer and fewer hands.
For a generation, working people have gotten more and more productive, have worked longer and longer hours, and haven’t gotten their fair share in return. C.E.O.s are reaping the benefits of that work, while the people actually responsible for it are keeping less and less.
This is no accident. The same day Amazon announced its decision to halt its second headquarters here, it was reported that the company would pay no federal income tax on the billions in profits it made last year. That’s galling, especially at a time when millions of working-class and middle-class Americans are finding that they are getting smaller tax returns this year thanks to President Trump’s tax plan, which has hugely benefited the wealthy.
As the mayor of the nation’s largest city, a place that’s both a progressive beacon and the very symbol of capitalism, I share the frustration about corporate America. So do many of my fellow mayors across the country. We know the game is rigged. But we still find ourselves fighting one another in the race to secure opportunity for our residents as corporations force us into all-against-all competitions.
Amazon’s HQ2 bidding war exemplified that injustice. It’s time to end that economic warfare with a national solution that prevents corporations from pitting cities against one another.
Some companies get it. Salesforce founder and chief executive Marc Benioff threw his weight behind a new corporate tax in San Francisco to fund services for the homeless. In January, Microsoft pledged $500 million to combat the affordable housing crisis in Seattle.
Amazon’s path in New York would have been far smoother had it recognized our residents’ fears of economic insecurity and displacement — and spoken to them directly.
We just witnessed another example of what the concentration of power in the hands of huge corporations leaves in its wake. Let’s change the rules before the next corporation tries to divide and conquer.