Amazon starts to deliver on its other Queens home

Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

By Christine ChungTHE CITY

This story was originally published on April 30, 2019 by THE CITY.

Amazon is deepening its roots in Queens, more than two months after zapping its HQ2 plans in Long Island City — stirring opponents to declare they’re not done fighting yet.

Three miles away in Woodside, Terreno Realty Corporation obtained Department of Buildings approval Monday to proceed with $5.6 million in construction at a warehouse where Amazon signed a ten-year lease to open its second fulfillment center in New York City.

City Councilmember Costa Constantinides (D-Queens), whose district includes the distribution center, said he is “troubled by Amazon moving forward with plans,” calling the internet giant anti-labor.

“New York City was the laboratory for the rights of workers to organize in the fight for fair wages and good benefits,” Constantinides said. “To allow this type of corporation to plant its flag in western Queens goes against our neighborhoods’ values, and we will make sure anyone who works in our district isn’t subjected to the long hours or harsh treatment people are allegedly subjected to elsewhere by Amazon.”

Amazon and Terreno Realty Corporation did not respond to requests for comment from THE CITY.  The renovations approved Monday include new plumbing fixtures and interior partitions, ceilings and doors, according to permits and applications.

Work in progress at Amazon's future fulfillment center in Woodside, Queens, April 29, 2019.
Work in progress at Amazon’s future fulfillment center in Woodside, Queens, April 29, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Opponents to the HQ2 plan included concerns about Amazon’s labor record on a list that included ire over $3 billion in tax incentives and a grant. Supporters pointed to the 25,000 to 40,000 jobs and $27 billion in revenue the project was expected to generate.

In announcing the now-defunct HQ2 deal, the offices of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo projected that the Woodside distribution center would create more than 2,000 jobs.

“Queens is a great place to do business, due to a large, skilled and diverse workforce, among many reasons,” Thomas Grech, president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce said Monday. “We welcome the jobs that will help our borough’s economy grow.”

San Francisco-based Terreno Realty purchased the property squeezed between the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and St. Michael’s Cemetery from the Bulova Corporation last March, for $25.2 million. Amazon’s lease began in December.

Complaints About Staten Island Center

On Feb. 14, the day that Amazon canceled its Queens HQ2, borough elected officials who opposed the plan said they’d pivot their protests to the Woodside facility.

Rashad Long, a former employee of the Staten Island warehouse, said he was terminated in February after protesting against the company and describing a working environment that he said was characterized by few breaks and extreme heat.

A complaint, filed by the Retail and Department Store Workers Union, is being reviewed by the National Labor Relations Board. Amazon said he was dismissed for a safety violation.

Workers at Amazon’s Staten Island distribution center said in December they hoped to join a union, describing routine 12-hour shifts and what they saw as unsafe working conditions. Amazon called the claims “false.”

State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) said she is“ extremely concerned” about the reports of working conditions in Staten Island. “This community will not stand for bad jobs.”

Calling for the company to stand aside and allow workers to unionize, she said: “We ask Amazon for card check neutrality, so that we can ensure pay, benefits, and working conditions are written in a binding contract between Amazon and its workers. We will not rest until Amazon can guarantee they will be a good neighbor.”

The fulfillment warehouse requires no government approvals beyond the building permits.

A job posting for Woodside shift manager positions demands employee fitness for high weights, endurance – and temperatures: “Must be able to lift up to 49 pounds with or without reasonable accommodation”; “Must be able to stand/walk for up to 10-12 hours”; “Must be able to work in an environment where the temperature may vary between 60 and 90 degrees, and will occasionally exceed 90 degrees.”

Amazon currently advertises wages of $17.50 to $19.90 an hour for warehouse workers at its Staten Island fulfillment center.

In January, Amazon confirmed it had leased property for a third New York City fulfillment warehouse, in Hunts Point, The Bronx.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.