An Open Letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
October 17, 2017
So last month, Amazon announced that you are looking for a location for your second headquarters (Amazon HQ2), and cities across North America jumped at a chance to submit proposals. You have your list of things you’re looking for from cities—but we live in these cities, and we’ve got some expectations of our own for Amazon.
We love jobs, we love technology, and we love convenience—but what you’re looking for will impact every part of our cities. We built these cities, and we want to make sure they remain ours.
1. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
It’s clear that one of the main selling points of bringing Amazon’s HQ2 to ANY city is that you’ve promised to create between 40-50,000 new jobs. Who doesn’t love new jobs? Well, we think it’s important to talk about the kinds of jobs we get. We believe that Amazon will need workers to do roughly three types of work: construction, permanent positions on your campus including service workers, programmers & administrators, and logistics. Across Amazon's operation, we want safe, family-sustaining jobs where workers' rights are respected.
The first big phase of Amazon’s project will inevitably involve construction workers—you’ve got to build a campus big enough to house all those workers! As you think about coming to our city, we’re asking you to make sure those are good jobs, available to us and our neighbors. We’re asking you to:
- Reserve a substantial number of construction jobs for local residents, especially underrepresented people of color and women, and partner with workforce development and community organizations that can help ensure the success of a targeted hire program;
- Make sure that construction contractors enter into project labor agreements that will help ensure workers have protections on the job and can guarantee that construction will be completed on time using skilled hands;
- Use and invest in high quality pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs that create new pathways for underrepresented workers such as women and people of color;
- Protect the right to form a union, and to whistle-blow on unsafe conditions;
- Ensure that all construction employers on your project pay living wages, provide access to high-quality health benefits and retirement security, fair scheduling and health and safety education; and
- Implement measures that protect formerly incarcerated people from discrimination during the hiring process.
Permanent Campus Workers [show more / less]
A large part of Amazon’s workforce will no doubt be highly-educated office workers -- you estimate the average pay for this new workforce will exceed $100,000 per year! Many tech companies, including Amazon, use guest worker visas to hire people with skills they claim not to be able to find in the US. If these are the good jobs of our nation’s future, let’s make sure that Amazon HQ2 is helping us prepare our own kids, unemployed workforce, and returning citizens for them. We’re asking you to:
- Create a mentoring program where Amazon engineers, economists, data scientists, accountants, and other professionals are partnered with hard science teachers in our school districts to help show kids what it’s like to work in STEM;
- Partner with groups that provide skills trainings to adults, to make sure that our unemployed residents are learning what they need to work again;
- Respect the right of workers to form a union for all your workers, including the service workers that make your campus run, and remain neutral in any union organizing drives;
- Develop responsible contracting standards for service contracts to ensure that cafeteria workers, janitors, security officers and other onsite service workers are paid a livable wage, receive benefits equitable to those received by directly employed workers, have the right to a voice at work without fear of discrimination or retaliation, do not suffer mass layoffs when contracts change hands, and are protected from misclassification and other forms of wage theft;
- Partner with workforce development groups to provide job training for returning citizens;
- Hold monthly meetings where engineers who are working on automation efforts sit down with warehouse workers, delivery drivers, and other blue collar workers that may be impacted, to discuss the plans.
Logistics [show more / less]
Obviously, logistics and operations are at the very core of Amazon’s DNA. In the past, Amazon’s warehouses have been reported for creating unsafe working conditions, and outsourcing jobs. We realize that the plans for HQ2 don’t directly project increased warehousing in our city—but some of us already have Amazon warehouses in our state, and we think you need to clean up your employment practices in them. We’re asking you to:
- Agree to directly employ the majority of warehouse workers and severely limit the use of temp agencies;
- Respect workers’ right to form or join a union, and protect whistleblowers;
- Allow independent, third party organizations to conduct health & safety trainings regularly;
- Pay living wages, provide access to high-quality health benefits and retirement security, and employ fair scheduling practices;
- Ensure that a substantial percentage of jobs go to working people from disadvantaged communities; workers who struggle with irregular employment; and returning citizens; and
- Allow warehouse workers to give input into planned automation, and provide retraining programs when automation causes job loss.
2. Building and Sustaining Great Communities
The qualities that Amazon is looking for in its new home search are the same things many of us want—it’s perfectly normal to want a place where employees will enjoy “living, recreational opportunities, educational opportunities, and an overall high quality of life.” The things about our cities that make you want to move here are the same reasons many of us live here—we have great systems of higher education, museums, and infrastructure that helps move people and things from one place to another. But we got that stuff by collectively paying for it, through taxes, and we’re expecting Amazon to pay your fair share if you end up being our neighbor.
It goes without saying that you can’t have great public services without paying taxes. We know you’ve had a little problem grasping that, sometimes. Here’s the deal:
- If you want a highly-educated local talent pool you must pay all of your property taxes to fund our schools, public safety, infrastructure and other public goods and services;
- For the same reasons, you must pay sales taxes on the HQ2’s building materials, machinery and equipment. And although you’ve finally this year started collecting sales taxes on your own goods in every state with a sales tax, you need to also do that on sales conducted on your platform by third parties.
- You must not seek to keep your employees’ state personal income taxes, nor should you seek the right to sell your corporate income tax credits to other companies.
Transportation [show more / less]
We love that you’re looking for cities that have robust public transit infrastructure—but we know that an influx of 50,000 new people will strain our existing service, and building new transit to serve Amazon could divert funds from the rest of us. Let’s make sure that, as transit gets built out, it’s working for everyone in our community. We’re asking you to:
- Support transit investment that serves us all, especially communities that rely on public transit;
- Make sure that discussion of new lines, new routes, or other expansion of transit services includes community input;
- Ensure affordability for all users of any new systems of public transportation;
- Decrease carbon emissions by only using clean-energy vehicles; and
- Make sure that jobs created by transportation construction and expansion follow the same principles we laid out for construction jobs on your own site.
Housing [show more / less]
It’s no secret that the tech industry has hastened an affordable housing crisis in Seattle and other cities around the country (including some of ours!). We want to make sure that as our community grows, it’s not outgrowing our ability to stay here. We’re asking you to:
- Make a significant annual contribution to supporting the development and preservation of affordable housing in our city, including by contributing land to Community Land Trusts or similar organizations that will ensure housing affordability over the long term; and
- Support, with resources, organizations that are defending the rights of tenants and vulnerable homeowners.
Small Businesses [show more / less]
Small businesses give our cities character, charm, and local flavor. They’re what people remember, when they visit—and provide goods and services that local residents count on from one generation to the next. We’re committed to keeping them open and flourishing. You can support our small businesses when you:
- Provide grants, business loans, or services to strengthen neighboring small businesses that may be impacted by development, including storefront improvement projects, commercial lease review, accounting, and business planning; and
- Establish a robust local vendor contracting program that ensures particularly local small minority- and women-owned businesses are able to benefit from contracting opportunities at HQ2.
3. Accountability & Transparency
Typically, these kinds of business development deals are negotiated in secret, with public comment only happening at the very end of the process. We believe that, as a 21st century technology company, you should be fully committed to open-sourcing the process of reaching a deal with our whole community. Here are some examples of what we expect to see:
- Prior to local project approvals, you’ll engage in meaningful negotiation with community stakeholders regarding community benefits and measures to mitigate project impacts;
- You will enter into a legally-binding Community Benefits Agreement and other legally binding agreements with community stakeholders; and
- In your hiring practices, you’ll respect local labor policies and legislation, and not fight to have them pre-empted by the state.
Creating an open process [show more / less]
- You’ll submit regular reports on Community Benefits to an oversight committee on which community stakeholders are directly represented;
- Prior to local project approvals, you’ll provide the public with a detailed, verified Community Impact Report regarding the project’s impacts on jobs, small businesses, housing, the treasury, the environment and public health; and
- You’ll provide the public with ongoing, verified information regarding hiring, wages and provision of community benefits throughout the life of the project, not just for your direct employees, but for contractors, sub-contractors and temp agencies.
Let's talk. We look forward to working with you to build a headquarters that works for everyone in our communities.
Action Center on Race and the Economy
American Independent Business Alliance
Center for Community Change
The Center for Popular Democracy
Democracy at Work Institute
Food and Water Watch
Good Jobs First
In the Public Interest
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Interfaith Worker Justice
Jobs with Justice
National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD)
Organization United for Respect
Partnership for Working Families
United for a Fair Economy
US Federation of Worker Cooperatives
Working Families Party
Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy (CASE)
Alliance for Community Transit - LA
Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, Southern California
California Work & Family Coalition
Center on Policy Initiatives
Contra Costa AFL-CIO Labor Council
East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE)
Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco
Jobs with Justice San Francisco
Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE)
Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD)
The Real Community Coalition (RCC), East Palo Alto
Warehouse Worker Resource Center
Working Partnerships USA
Colorado Center on Law and Policy
Colorado Jobs With Justice
United for a New Economy
Atlanta Jobs With Justice
Brighton Park Neighborhood Council
Chicago Jobs with Justice
Chicago Teachers Union
Illinois Economic Policy Institute
Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice
SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana
UE Western Region
United Working Families
Warehouse Workers for Justice
Central Indiana Jobs with Justice
St. Joseph Valley Project
Jobs with Justice Kentucky
Sierra Club Beyond Coal
New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice
Common Cause Maryland
City Life/Vida Urbana
Jobs for Somerville (a Committee of the Somerville Community Corporation)
Massachusetts Jobs with Justice
Detroit People's Platform
The Equitable Detroit Coalition
Great Lakes Bioneers
North End Woodward Community Coalition
Southeast Michigan Jobs with Justice/Unity Campaign
The Storehouse of Hope
Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL)
SEIU Local 26
Missouri Jobs With Justice
New Jersey Policy Perspective
New Jersey Working Families Alliance
ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York
Fiscal Policy Institute
Long Island Jobs with Justice
Make the Road New York
New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health
New York Communities for Change
Partnership for the Public Good, Buffalo
Pratt Center for Community Development
Tompkins County Workers' Center
Down Home North Carolina
North Carolina Justice Center
North Carolina League of Conservation Voters
Working America North Carolina
Cleveland Jobs with Justice
Lorain County Forward
Policy Matters Ohio
Toledo Jobs with Justice
Central Oregon Jobs with Justice
OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon
SEIU Local 49
215 People's Alliance
Alliance for Police Accountability, Pittsburgh (APA)
From Victory Community Development Corporation
Glen Hazel Community Resident Management Corporation
Jacob Klein Music (Pittsburgh)
Make the Road Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN)
Philadelphia Jobs with Justice
Pittsburgh Human Rights City Alliance
Snack Like a Local (Philadelphia)
Women's Community Revitalization Project
Central Labor Council of Nashville/Middle TN
Jobs with Justice East Tennessee
Stand Up Nashville
Texas Organizing Project
Utah Housing Coalition
Peace & Justice Center
Our Revolution Arlington
All in for Washington
Economic Opportunity Institute
InterIm Community Development Association
Puget Sound Sage
South Sound Jobs With Justice
Tenants Union of Washington State
DC Jobs with Justice
Washington Interfaith Network
Parkdale Activity - Recreation Centre (PARC)
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Resources for Reporters and Researchers
TO: News Media Outlets in Amazon’s HQ2 Finalist Localities
RE: Ideas for Covering Amazon’s HQ2 and How It Would Impact Your City
Sources: Greg LeRoy, Good Jobs First email@example.com
Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance firstname.lastname@example.org
We write to suggest angles and issues about Amazon’s HQ2 project that may merit additional reporting. This is a rare opportunity for civic journalism about complex issues that have attracted high public interest.
Are the incentives being offered actually going to be a factor in whether Amazon chooses to locate here? Or would they be a windfall? Because state and local taxes are such small cost factors, evidence shows that incentives rarely drive location decisions. And in the case of a corporate headquarters, the executive talent pool is especially important. It’s an opportunity to explore the kinds of corporate headquarters your metro area already has, and the graduate programs of your local universities in engineering, law, accounting, marketing and other professions.
Who owns the parcel(s) of land proposed for use in the bid? What is known about that developer, its track record and political connections? How well or poorly has it performed in past projects? Has it delivered, or not, on past incentive awards? How much money have the company and/or its executives given to the campaigns of elected officials? (See WAMU’s “Deals for Developers, Cash for Campaigns” series as an investigative template.)
How would Amazon’s HQ2 affect existing local businesses and change the character of the city? Rising commercial rents is a top challenge for locally owned businesses and local entrepreneurs trying to start businesses. How much will HQ2 affect commercial rents? Will it cause substantial rent increases that displace locally owned businesses, especially those that serve everyday neighborhood needs? How will Amazon’s large footprint alter the character of the city? To what degree will the city’s streetscape come to serve the needs of Amazon employees, perhaps to the detriment of other residents?
Will the project fuel gentrification and displacement? What is the current affordability of housing in the project footprint and surrounding neighborhoods? What would be the likely impact on them of tens of thousands of highly-paid executive jobs arriving? Does the bid specify ways to cushion that effect?
Would HQ2 help the city’s low income families or exacerbate inequality? Many of the jobs created by HQ2 will go to newcomers who have specific skills, not to current local residents. Given this, how will HQ2 impact low-income families? If it doesn’t create good jobs for these families, are they likely to be worse off overall, due to Amazon’s impact on their cost of living, particularly housing costs? Will this exacerbate inequality? How is the city proposing to address this?
How much in tax breaks would Amazon automatically quality for? Discretionary, or deal-specific incentive offers, are getting a lot of attention. But in most states, the pre-existing “as of right” tax breaks that flow automatically, or virtually automatically, to any company that performs an eligible activity, may constitute the bigger dollar value. These include investment tax credits and hiring tax credits (which typically reduce or eliminate corporate income tax liabilities) and sales tax exemptions on new building materials and equipment.
Does the bid provide taxpayer safeguards? Are there money-back “clawback” provisions? Job creation, job retention and wage and benefit requirements? Would any incentives require special legislative enactment? Which public services would be affected by the foregone revenue? If the offer involves the area’s infrastructure budget, what share would it take?
Are there community benefits? That is, are there specific, binding obligations that the company would engage with incumbent city residents to ensure HQ2 would benefit them as well? (These could include local hiring, affordable housing support, local sourcing, university partnerships, etc.)
Public Auction, Private Dealings: Will Amazon’s HQ2 Veer to Secrecy Create A Missed Opportunity for Inclusive, Accountable Development?
Washington, DC-As Amazon.com conducts site visits at the 20 finalist locations for its second headquarters, or HQ2 project, little is known about most of those localities' first-round bids, and almost nothing at all is known about six. Even though billions of dollars are at stake, few states and cities have fully disclosed their bids. Even those that have partially disclosed have not revealed the details of their tax-break offers and their costs to taxpayers.
That is the main finding of a study released today by Good Jobs First. "PublicAuction, Private Dealings: Will Amazon's HQ2 Veer to Secrecy Create A Missed Opportunity for Inclusive, Accountable Development?" can be found at www.goodjobsfirst.org.
What Communities are Saying about Amazon HQ2
- Buzzfeed: "Not everyone is happy about Amazon building its second headquarters in their town."
- Bisnow: Coalition against Amazon HQ2 rises in normally business-friendly environments
- CNN Money: "Cities try to lure Amazon, but want to keep the details a secret"
- Village Voice: "Let's all hope New York gets outbid for Amazon"
- Denver Post: "Let another city win"
- Deseret News: "Utah submits Amazon HQ2 bid amid community concerns"
- KARE 11: "Governor Dayton Defends Low-Key Amazon Bid"
- CBS Minnesota: "Small Businesses question why Amazon is being offered subsidies, not them"
- KSTP: "No tax breaks in Minnesota Amazon bid"
- Retail Dive: "Amazon HQ2 bids are in. Who will win?"
- Business North: "Business owners call to invest in Minnesota entrepreneurs and families, not corporate tax giveaways"
- VentureBeat: "Civic groups call for more transparency in Amazon negotiations"
- Seattle Times: "Amazon should plan for civic investment in HQ2 city."
- City & State: "Should New York host Amazon's HQ2?"
- Geekwire: "A 'People's RFP': civic groups demand transparency and worker rights in Amazon HQ2 search"
- Guardian: "US groups urge Amazon tax pledge"
- Fortune: "Amazon's second headquarters bidding process is being hit with criticism"
- Time: "City leaders present list of demands to Amazon"
- The Week: "City leaders present list of demands to Amazon"
- Fast Company: "To Meet Amazon’s Tax-Break Demands For HQ2, Will Cities Get Steamrolled Or Win Community Benefits?"
- Chicago Tribune: "Here’s a smarter way to pursue Amazon-- and help Chicagoans"
- LA Times: "Memo to civic leaders: Don't sell out your cities for Amazon's new headquarters"
- Wall Street Journal: "Why Amazon needs some cities More than they need Amazon"
- Wall Street Journal: "Why I’m not bidding for Amazon’s HQ"
- Reuters: "Why no city should want Amazon’s HQ2"
- Venture Beat: "San Antonio refuses to bid for Amazon HQ2; ‘Giving away the farm isn’t our style’"
- Charlotte Business Journal: "Charlotte’s Amazon HQ2 proposal, which includes 22 sites in the region, being sent off today"
- Common Dreams: "To Halt 'Race to the Bottom' Bidding War, Community Leaders Issue Key Demands to Amazon
- East Bay Express: "Port of Oakland Jobs Deal Should Be a Model for Amazon and Other Warehousing Corporations"
- Business Insider: "New York City is duking it out for Amazon's headquarters by offering 62.5 million square feet of space"