Activists protest Jeff Bezos at his Manhattan apartment on Amazon’s Prime Day

Protesters demonstrated at the Manhattan home of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on Prime Day, condemning the tech mogul for his company’s alleged connections to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Immigration activists attempted to deliver more than 270,000 petitions to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos during a protest at his new home across from Madison Square Park during a protest on Monday afternoon during Amazon’s Prime Day. Activists were calling on Bezos to cut ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and end abusive working conditions at Amazon warehouses.

The company started Prime Day last year offering deals for members of the Amazon Prime and the protest was organized specifically on Prime Day as part of a national day of action against the company. Representatives and activists from New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York, ALIGN NY, NYC-DSA, Mijente, DRUM, JFREJ, MPower Change, Workers United SEIU, Tech Workers Coalition and Chhaya CDC, as well as immigrant families and former Amazon workers, participated in the protest, which started on the northern end of Madison Square Park and marched to the West 26th Street entrance of Bezos’ apartment at 212 Fifth Avenue.

Curbed reported at the beginning of June that Bezos had purchased three condos, including a penthouse previously listed for $58 million, in the building. The penthouse that Bezos reportedly purchased is a triplex with five bedrooms, five bathrooms and almost 6,000 square feet of outdoor space. The Wall Street Journal reported that the total value of the apartments Bezos bought in the building was around $80 million.

One former Amazon warehouse worker who spoke at the protest, detailing the long hours with no breaks that employees have reportedly been subjected to. While speaking about working with insufficient lunch and bathroom breaks, the former Amazon employee held up a clear water bottle with an unnamed yellow liquid, although an organizer assured protesters that the mystery liquid was not urine.

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Editorial: Another store closing, don’t blame Amazon

May4 Garodnick presser Amott

Natasha Amott, owner of Whisk

Earlier this month, Town & Village interviewed three local business owners to ask their thoughts on a package of legislation aimed at helping mom-and-pops.

One of those business owners was Natasha Amott, whose business, kitchen supply shop Whisk has three locations, one on Broadway in Flatiron, and two in Brooklyn, one in Williamsburg and the other in Brooklyn Heights. While the three shops have no shortage of loyal customers, Amott told Town & Village on Friday that the Williamsburg location on Bedford will be closing at the end of the month after 10 years due to an astronomical rise in rent. Currently $18,452, the landlord asked for a 44 percent increase that would have brought it up to $26,500. Such asking rents have become the norm in a neighborhood that, like so many others in the city, have been zeroed in on by chains.

Amott explained her decision to close in a “love letter” to customers, while also telling T&V via email, “This is NOT a story of a small business that could not survive the growth of online retailers. This is a story of a tremendously successful little business in a neighborhood that has become overrun with national and multinational chains, often supported by private equity, who choose to pay high rents as an advertising investment to grow their brand. The commercial banking system to underwrite mortgages on this land has often demanded these high rent rolls. And the small landlords – like Whisk’s – are now able to benefit too from these inflated market rents.”

In addition to the Brooklyn closure, there has also been a “For Rent” sign in the window of the Manhattan store.

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Opinion: Help the SBJSA move forward

The following is an open letter from Small Business Congress founder Sung Soo Kim to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. It has been edited for length.

Honorable Speaker Johnson:

I am disheartened that you refused to respond to my first request to meet and at least try to create compromise legislation to stop the closings of our city’s small businesses and save jobs. I took you at your word made at the October hearing on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act that you recognized a serious crisis existed and that you were committed to a solution and moving the bill (Small Business Jobs Survival Act) to a vote.

It is obvious to every small business owner that the grossly unfair lease renewal process places their futures and the futures of their employees in grave jeopardy when their leases expire. The empty storefronts on every main street make it obvious to every New Yorker that their beloved mom and pop businesses, having no rights nor protections from exorbitant rent increases, are desperate for government intervention to save them.

Putting aside the REBNY, Chambers, SBS and BID spins, false narratives, and insulting studies and fake worthless proposals, the majority of the city’s lawmakers also know their small businesses cannot survive without this legislation that gives rights to business owners in the critical lease renewal process.

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Letters to the editor, Mar. 7

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Maloney vs. Ocasio-Cortez on Amazon

I quote Mr. Sanders’s column, “Down the Amazon,” T&V, February 21: “…bowing to political pressure from politicians and communities in Queens, Mr. Bezos pulled the plug and backed out of his deal…to build a massive back office complex in Long Island City just a stone’s throw across the East River.”

For his statement to be factual, however, Mr. Sanders should have explained that Amazon’s Long Island City project in is fully within our, read: Hon. Carolyn Maloney’s, Congressional District. Ms. Maloney embraced the project as an opportunity despite its flaws and was distraught while appearing on TV and radio offering her take. She was articulate in explaining that there were no discretionary funds to re-purpose for schools or subways as was somehow suggested.

Instead, a newly elected Congress Member, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, one who spent thousands of dollars on Amazon last year alone, one who is not even in the Congressional District of the project, took credit for its demise:

“Today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers and their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.”

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Opinion: Down the Amazon

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Any way you slice it, last week was a bad week for Jeff Bezos, the richest man in America. Mr. Bezos owns the online retail shopping giant Amazon as well as other businesses. His net worth is reportedly north of $75 billion; yes, that is billions.

Earlier in the month, the National Enquirer tabloid threatened to release salacious photos of Mr. Bezos engaged in extramarital activities during what might become the most expensive divorce in history. Then a few days later, bowing to political pressure from politicians and communities in Queens, Mr. Bezos pulled the plug and backed out of his deal with Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to build a massive back office complex in Long Island City, just a stone’s throw across the East River. The deal had been consummated by promises of government subsidies totaling $3 billion from the city and state. So what happened?

As I wrote on this page several months ago, the entire Amazon announcement back in November was curious to begin with. First of all, the governor disclosed this agreement days after he was re-elected. With news like that, one would have expected that the governor would have wanted to make this public before the election if it was so terrific. Hmmm. On the surface it seemed like a pretty good deal for New York City with the prospect of thousands of new jobs. But then the details trickled out.

Very few could argue against the benefits to the city’s economy by opening a major new enterprise which may have brought significant new employment to our city and the new income tax revenue that such jobs would have produced. But there were other issues as well with such a huge land deal. These issues are routinely vetted by the local community and the City Council. That is how our city government works, or is supposed to work.

Amazon would only build this complex with the billions in public taxpayer subsidies and other little goodies like a private helicopter landing site for Mr. Bezos and his top executives to come and go. All city and state reviews of this city property transfer would be suspended. No oversight or official comment by the City Council or the local Community Planning Boards would be allowed. Why not? The answer is probably that Mr. Bezos did not want to negotiate with anybody other than the mayor and the governor and did not want to risk getting tied up in discussions if his plans were not to the liking of the immediate communities to be impacted.

But why did the governor and the mayor who usually agree on nothing but always talk about good government bi-laterally enter into this most non-transparent arrangement with Amazon and giving no community leaders or representatives of government a say in the matter? I suspect that it had as much to do with political development as it did with economic development. Reference back to my opening sentence. Mr. Bezos is fabulously wealthy and is known to help underwrite the political aspirations of his most favored politicians. Both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have aspirations that go beyond New York City or New York State. Pardon my cynicism.

But all is not lost. If the city and the state were prepared to give Amazon all those billions of dollars in public money for its private construction, why not re-purpose that money for job training, education including vocational, and support for small businesses? That investment would also create more jobs and more taxes paid, as well as economic activity. So evidently the money is there to be spent, but will it be spent on anything or anyone other than the richest man in America?

Letters to the editor, Dec. 20

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Transparency needed on NYCHA ‘fix’

The following is an open letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio:

On Wednesday evening, December 12, Mayor de Blasio announced on TV that he’s getting $24 billion to fix apartments in public housing or New York City Housing Authority. Funding, he said, will come from federal, NY State, NY City, as well as from city land and air rights sold to developers.

I’ve been writing and talking to elected politicians for years about not selling our NY City land because they are only temporary employees elected to administer our property and all necessary services for the well-being of the real persons who reside in NYC.

The land should be rented to developers for 80 to 100 years and air rights should be very well-studied; then, the elected mayor selects qualified persons to verify and/or be sure that all is working well, according to signed contracts before the jobs have been performed.

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Letters to the editor, Nov. 29

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Funding Amazon vs. NYers in need

To the Editor:

I wondered why our Democrat mayor and governor, who never agree on anything, were both thrilled to give such an enormous handout to Amazon’s owner, the richest man in the world. Despite a desperate need for funds to put towards the welfare of over 100,000 homeless NYC students and the aging homeless population, some of whom you can see every day on the corner of First Avenue and 14th Street, and the benefits of free health care and higher education for NY State residents, and even for more mundane items such as repairing the ever-increasing potholes in NYC, despite all this our, Democrat leaders have chosen to grease the palm of the wealthiest of the wealthy one percent. I found the answer to this conundrum on the pages of T&V.

“Tenant PAC spokesperson Michael McKee…believes Governor Andrew Cuomo will be working behind the scenes to fight tenant-friendly laws” (“Democratic lead too big for attempts at power grabs,” T&V, Nov. 15) and “He expects Cuomo to continue to portray himself as pro-tenant while also trying to keep his real estate donors for his long-rumored run for president.” (“What a true blue NY State Senate means for tenants,” T&V, Nov. 15)

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Editorial: Amazonian giveaway to a giant

After months of speculation on where Amazon would decide to hold court, the online retail giant finally announced the locations of its headquarters, which will be split in two cities: Crystal City, Virginia and Long Island City in New York.

It didn’t take long before City Hall and nearly every politician in town crowed about Amazon’s promise to make at least 25,000 hires  in positions paying an average of $150,000, after being promised up to $2.2 billion in state and city giveaways. Of course good-paying jobs are a benefit to New Yorkers. However, we still can’t help but feel the city has really turned its back on small businesses this time.

As the long-stalled effort to get the Small Business Jobs Survival Act passed proves, no one is afraid to parrot the real estate industry’s argument that the demise of mom-and-pops has more to do with online shopping than exorbitant rent. At the hearing for the SBJSA, a representative of the city’s Small Business Services agency argued against the bill, warning of “unintended consequences” like landlords being more hesitant to lease to small businesses.

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Letters to the Editor, Oct. 22

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Sick of Ave. C looking like Swiss cheese

A reader sent this letter to Town & Village last Tuesday about traffic problems during ongoing work along Avenue C. A response from the DOT and Con Ed follows.

Avenue C has been torn up for over three weeks, between at least 20th Street and 14th Street. I assume this is done by the DOT but I’m not certain of it.

In any case how can any responsible agency be permitted to tear up a major access road (this stretch serves as both means of entry and exit for the East River Drive) and leave it in the condition of a veritable mine field? It’s beyond reason. Traffic is slowed to a crawl and vehicles are swerving left and right to avoid major pot holes, exposed sewer covers and gas vents. (On what had been a level street to begin with, I traverse the area daily and there were no issues with this street.) Vehicle and pedestrian safety are severely compromised.

One evening last week, Con Edison employed the use of traffic cones and security guards on both 16th and 14th Streets to secure parking for their employees on the Stuyvesant Town perimeter. I believe this was done due to the congestion caused by no parking on Avenue C. Is this legal? And to top it off, that same night DOT (?) was tearing up the intersection at 14th Street and First Avenue.

What’s going on here? Why is our neighborhood being taxed so severely by poorly coordinated city services and an out of control power company? If street work is necessary, fine. Tear it up as needed but don’t leave it in this condition for weeks (months?) at a time.

Demolition/tear-up should not be permitted unless the repairs are to be made immediately. Is this so contractors can start as many jobs as possible and then get back to them when they see fit? Who is responsible for this? The public is not being well served.

Name withheld, ST

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UPS says delivery policy never changed

Packages recently piled up in the lobby of Council  Member Dan Garodnick’s building in Peter Cooper Village. (Photo by Dan Garodnick)

Packages recently piled up in the lobby of Council Member Dan Garodnick’s building in Peter Cooper Village. (Photo by Dan Garodnick)

By Sabina Mollot
Back in April, CompassRock alerted residents to a change in policy in which UPS would no longer be leaving packages for residents outside their doors without their signatures. Instead, residents were advised they could get a membership to Oval Concierge, which would accept packages on their behalf. One month of complimentary service was offered in the emailed alert to residents “while you sort out your plans to get deliveries safely home.”
However, this week, UPS said that it never changed its policy and that packages could still be left outside doors. Council Member Dan Garodnick was made aware of this in a letter from UPS’s Vice President of State Government Affairs Mark Giuffre, after contacting the company. Garodnick also said he’s since alerted Oval Concierge to the error.
When asked about the alert, a spokesperson for UPS, Dan McMackin, told T&V, “We’re confused. We have no idea what they’re talking about.”
He added that there are buildings where owners handle packages for tenants and in those buildings, tenants are notified by UPS that the owner has them. However, said McMackin, there’s no such agreement at ST/PCV.
In response to a call from T&V, a spokesperson for CWCapital, Brian Moriarty, said the reason the alert went out is because UPS drivers were the ones to make a call as to whether or not to leave packages in buildings. Apparently they can decline to do so in the event of package thefts being reported at a particular building.
“We were just told by the customer service rep it is the driver’s discretion whether or not to leave a package when three or more packages have gone missing from a particular location,” Moriarty. “I don’t know that the flag on certain PCVST building would necessarily be communicated to the national (UPS) office.”
Meanwhile, Garodnick said he’s also followed up on another issue relating to packages left in buildings. In recent months, residents have been complaining that a third party delivery company for Amazon has been leaving packages unattended in building lobbies.
Recently, when spotting a deliveryman doing just this in his own building, Garodnick said he asked why the packages were being left there. The response: “He said, ‘Well most people aren’t home,’” said Garodnick. “So I’ve raised the issue with Amazon and they’re looking into the issue. I am trying to get us back into a place where people can expect to see packages in front of their doors without having to rely on Oval Concierge service.”
The third party delivery company, which apparently works for various dot coms, is called Special Logistics. They did not return a call by T&V’s press time.
McMackin said UPS would be looking into the matter of any packages left in lobbies. “Packages should not be showing up in lobbies,” he said.