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Jeff Bezos doesn’t care if you think Amazon is too powerful

In the wake of attacks from Trump and others, Amazon continues to flex its muscles.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos walking toward the camera.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Drew Angerer / Getty
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

On Tuesday, Amazon abruptly suspended construction on the buildout of additional office real estate in its hometown of Seattle. The company said it was waiting to see how the city council votes this month on a proposal that would tax Amazon and other big Seattle employers about $500 per local employee.

The funds — an estimated $75 million a year with around a third of that coming from Amazon — would be earmarked for initiatives to help stem Seattle’s homeless crisis through programs for the homeless and the development of low-income housing units.

In ordinary times, a leverage game like this one between a city’s biggest employer and its government leaders might be viewed as a hardball negotiating tactic and nothing more.

But these are not ordinary times — certainly not for Amazon. The Seattle-based e-commerce giant is facing a growing narrative, supported by President Donald Trump, that it has grown far too powerful.

From specific concerns about its delivery deal with the U.S. Postal Service and its sales tax advantage over brick-and-mortar stores to the conditions and pay of the hundreds of thousands of warehouse works whose grunt work makes one-click online shopping possible, you’d think Amazon might feel on the defensive. And act that way.

And in Seattle specifically, the company is often the target of disdain among longtime residents as real estate prices have skyrocketed in conjunction with Amazon’s buildout of its giant new downtown city campus. The company has agreed to give a 65-room homeless shelter free space in one of its headquarter buildings starting in 2020.

But instead of maintaining a low profile, Amazon has opted to stop, pose and flex all of those muscles that it has built up over two-plus decades in Seattle.

An Amazon spokesperson told the New York Times that the company was pausing “construction planning” of a new giant office building “pending the outcome of the head tax vote by City Council.” The company was also “evaluating options” to rent out space to others in another building it planned to take over, the paper reported.

These are not the actions of a company that is concerned about the perception of being too powerful. Nor was the cross-country HQ2 contest for its new headquarters, which has been a brilliant marketing campaign, but one that also comes across as out of touch with the power disparity it puts on display.

Amazon continues to act like it’s invincible. It better hope it’s right.

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