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Amazon’s opponents have mixed reactions to the company suddenly changing its NYC plans

It’s a huge victory for groups that decried the billions in tax breaks the company brokered in secret, but some wish Amazon had stuck around and compromised.

Protesters against Amazon in New York hold up signs and a box with an Amazon smile upside down.
Protesters against Amazon in New York hold up signs and a box with an Amazon smile upside down.
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
Shirin Ghaffary is a senior Vox correspondent covering the social media industry. Previously, Ghaffary worked at BuzzFeed News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and TechCrunch.

When grassroots activists and local politicians first started rallying a few months ago against Amazon’s intention to build a second headquarters in New York City, the odds that they could derail the plans of one of the nation’s most profitable, powerful companies looked slim.

Today, opponents got their wish sooner than many expected — and their reaction is a mix of surprise, joy, and, for some, disappointment. Many had hoped Amazon would reach a compromise with activists who wanted a better deal for the city’s working class in exchange for the $3 billion in tax breaks the company was set to receive for its massive development in Long Island City, Queens.

The move is a major loss for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who negotiated the competitive deal with Amazon in private.

“You have to be tough to make it in New York City. We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity,” de Blasio wrote in a press statement this morning.

Meanwhile, the coalition of advocacy groups, politicians, and labor unions who opposed the deal celebrated its collapse as a major win. The opposition’s most prominent national supporter, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also chimed in.

Local politicians framed the decision as a victory against corporate power.

“When our community fights together, anything is possible, even when we’re up against the biggest corporation in the world,” tweeted New York City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the area where HQ2 was supposed to be and was one of the leading political opponents of the deal.

Similarly, Will Luckman, a leader of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America, a group that has been organizing some of the most vocal protests against the deal, said he was surprised that Amazon gave up so quickly. But he’s happy about it.

“We’re thrilled that Amazon has decided to break up with New York on Valentine’s Day. We think it’s best for the both of us,” said Luckman, who added his group will continue to organize on behalf of labor as tech companies expand their presence in New York cities.

But other organizations that have been critical of Amazon’s Long Island plan, including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), seemed disappointed that Amazon didn’t work harder to reach a deal with its proposed neighbors. The company had promised to bring 25,000 jobs to the city with an average salary of $150,000 a year — big numbers for a borough outside the city center. Pro-labor groups were also using the deal as an opening to negotiate with Amazon over its employees’ union efforts in its other New York City facilities.

“Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns that have been raised by many New Yorkers, Amazon says you do it our way or not at all, we will not even consider the concerns of New Yorkers — that’s not what a responsible business would do,” wrote Chelsea Connor, director of communications for RWDSU, in a statement this morning.

New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, who potentially had the power to block the deal through a state board, also voiced his frustration with Amazon giving up on the city. In the New York Times, which first reported the news that the company was cancelling the deal, he compared Amazon to a “petulant child” who “insists on getting its way or takes its ball and leaves.”

While today was undoubtedly a success for Amazon’s opponents, whose power to fight against a global tech giant was grossly underestimated, they have also effectively lost a seat at the bargaining table.

Amazon was supposed to attend two more hearings at the New York City Council, where it would have had the chance to hear firsthand from the city council and the public about their gripes with the deal. These meetings could have been a way to publicly compel the company to meet its opponents’ demands: help fix the city’s crumbling subway system, commit to supporting unions within the company’s workforce, and end its reported contracts with ICE.

Amazon has decided to pack up and leave New York. And while it’s an unprecedented showing of the power of community activism in the city, there are many other cities ready to take New York’s place. The mixed reactions today reflect a deeper uncertainty about whether Amazon, and other major companies like it, will use this as a lesson to take their civic duties more seriously, or simply turn to locales that will put up less of a fight.

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