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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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?