This afternoon the City Council the long-pending request from Amazon to vacate an alley in order to allow them to build a new office tower. But it provided an opportunity for several Council members to give Amazon a tongue-lashing over its labor practices.
As reported yesterday, the bill was amended to strengthen the free speech rights of citizens on the public-access areas of the property. That was fairly uncontroversial; Amazon had previously stated that it had no objection to the amendment.
The real issue only peripherally relates to Amazon, but was a labor issue related to its security contractor to which it outsources policing of the public access areas (and dealing with people exercising their free speech rights there). As Council member O’Brien stated, and several citizens testified to in the public comment session, that contractor has a long history of objectionable practices towards its employees, including retaliatory actions against any who attempt to unionize. Council member Sawant stated that in her view Amazon was using the security contractor to shield itself from responsibility for abusive practices towards workers and in general for the behavior of its subcontractors, and she would have preferred to use this alley vacation request as an opportunity to force Amazon to be accountable. Since she did not have the support of the other Council members (even O’Brien, who has no love for the contractor but saw it as a separate issue) she chose to vote “no” on the alley vacation request — but criticized her fellow Council members for not supporting workers.
In the end, the bill passed 8-0, with Sawant as the “no” vote.
As an aside, in the first test of Sawant’s ability to muster a coalition among the new City Council, she came up empty today.