Locals have until Oct 19 to say ‘No Public Bribes to Corporate Scofflaws’
Fresh off of throwing tens of millions of dollars at General Electric, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker are now planning to enter the international horse race to convince Amazon to let the city and the commonwealth shovel vast amounts of public money at it in exchange for building a new second headquarters (“HQ2” for short) here.
But this HQ2 won’t be just any corporate headquarters. No no no. None of this GE business—with maybe kinda sorta up to a piddling 800 jobs at a new Boston HQ at some point. Amazon plans to put 50,000 workers in its new digs. Fast.
Thing is, the bulk of those jobs are apparently slated for software developers. Which, true, our colleges produce in some numbers. But most of the students who train for high-tech jobs are from “outta town.” So the new jobs are not going to benefit our shell-shocked Boston-area working class. If the Seattle experience is any guide, the gigs they’re going to get from the deal will be the same unstable jobs as subcontractors—ranging from cafeteria workers to security guards—that they’re already struggling to survive on now. And those jobs do not “raise” any “boats” in anyone’s fantasy scheme of how capitalist economics works.
For both the city and the state, there’s another big red flag: Amazon proposes to spend $5 billion building a campus of around 8 million square feet. Leaving aside the lack of the necessary 100-acre plot in or near downtown Boston, that kind of build-out is going to place a huge burden on both our metro housing and transportation infrastructures. Yet Amazon is coming on to cities like Boston with hand outstretched. Looking for the tax breaks and direct aid (read: bribes) that all big companies expect when they move to a new location these days. And after starving even more social programs to pay for this latest boondoggle, what are working families going to get back from the huge multinational?
Probably not much. According to the New York Times, Amazon only paid an average local, state, federal, and foreign tax rate of 13 percent between 2007 and 2015—far less than the official federal corporate tax rate of 35 percent alone, and less than even the 15 percent corporate tax rate that the Trump administration is trying to pass. Given that Boston real estate developers have been allowed to build primarily “luxury” condo complexes in the last many years, vacant units will be quickly snatched up by Amazon employees, and then the remaining downmarket properties will be upgraded by landlords looking to cash in. The result will be even more Bostonians without decent housing, legions more homeless people, and little new tax revenue to pay for the mounting social crisis thus created—or for making the desperately needed repairs and upgrades to our crumbling and utterly underfunded public transportation infrastructure.
Back on the labor tip, Amazon has gone out of its way to crush even the most insignificant union drives at its facilities worldwide since its inception. As when a small group of maintenance and repair technicians at its Middletown, Delaware, facility voted 21-6 against joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers after an intense management campaign against the workers. Meanwhile, in Germany, where better labor policies and worker militance have forced Amazon to accept some unionization, management was recently shown to be “using peer pressure” to convince workers to not use their government-guaranteed sick days. No surprise, for a company which has made some of its warehouse workers walk 15 miles a day on a typical shift.
So is this the kind of company we should let state and local government bigs lavish public money on?
Hell no. And there’s one big reason, aside from the above, why we shouldn’t. Allowing a company as large as Amazon to suddenly parachute a huge operation into our midst means it will immediately command an inordinate amount of political and economic power in Boston and Massachusetts. Particularly, the ability to threaten a capital strike in the form of leaving the area if any future demands for public lucre aren’t met.
Once Amazon arrives, it is going to distort the metro political economy so severely that we’ll be stuck with it. The ultimate white elephant.
Which is why any potential Amazon Boston deal must be stopped—with even more finality than the Olympics deal was torpedoed. Fortunately, unlike the GE Boston Deal—that got sprung on Boston and Massachusetts residents after months of secret negotiations—there’s still time to organize a very strong “NO” campaign. The deadline for Boston to get a proposal to Amazon is Oct 19.
Readers have a bit over a month to force Walsh, Baker, and other local pols to stand down on this one. I recommend hitting the ground running.
Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.