Amazon presence in East New York yields jobs, corporate involvement

An Amazon billboard along Linden Blvd. in East New York advertises for jobs. The online retailer recently leased space in the neighborhood.
Photo by Ariama C. Long

While opponents and proponents debate the merits of the mega-online retailer Amazon’s presence in the city, the company’s move into East New York late last year has yielded several hundred local jobs and increasing community engagement, according to Amazon officials.

The two facilities, in which Amazon signed a lease include a 211,000-square-foot facility at 12555 Flatlands Ave., near Erskine Street to be known as the Brooklyn Logistics Center and a 90,000-square-foot last-mile distribution/delivery center at 2300 Linden Blvd.

“About 100 employees work at the East New York delivery station, along with hundreds of drivers for Amazon’s Delivery Service Partners and Amazon Flex drivers. Jobs at this facility start at $15.75 per hour & up for all entry level employees,” said Amazon Spokesperson Jenna Hilzenrath.

“In addition to our industry-leading $15 minimum wage, Amazon’s full-time employees receive comprehensive benefits, including full health, dental, and vision, starting on day one, along with 401k with 50 percent company match, and innovative programs like Career Choice, which prepays 95 percent of tuition for in-demand fields,” she added. 

Amazon’s arrival into the neighborhood has been a bone of contention to the local candidates vying for term-limited City Councilmember Inez Barron’s term-limited seat. This includes her husband, Assemblymember Charles Barron and candidates Wilfredo Florentino and Nikki Lucas.

The three candidates were asked about Amazon’s coming to the neighborhood during the recent PoliticsNY/Schneps Media/Brooklyn Public Library-sponsored 42nd City Council district candidate’s debate.

Florentino said the company, which was allowed to lease the warehouses as of right, never engaged with the community.

“That is part and parcel of the issues that communities like ours experience when these businesses open up as of right and feel no interest in engaging with local folks. They need to come to us, they need to talk to us, and they need to engage with us first, not as an afterthought, but in the pre-planning process,” said Florentino.

Barron said he is against the company coming to East New York, jobs or no jobs.

“We called up the Department of Buildings and said we want you all to stop it because of the traffic congestion by them, then environmental protection, the trucks that are coming and all of that pollution in the air,” said Barron. 

“We gave it our shot, we even had demonstrations in front of the facility to stop, not to ask them to come to the table, to tell them to get out of our community,” he added.

While candidates running in the 42nd district were all critical of the company coming to their neighborhood, the PoliticsNY debate for Queens City Council District 26, which included the proposed site for Amazon’s second headquarters in Long Island City, had a stark difference of opinions over the Amazon deal.

This difference of opinion in the 11-person race came mainly from the two candidates living in or around the nearby New York City Housing Authority development, the Kingsbridge Houses. While the other nine candidates said they supported the protests that led to Amazon walking away from the deal, the two candidates presented a more nuanced view.

“I would like to go through the process. I defend the process of listening to them, seeing what they could offer for the community, and seeing if it could be something beneficial for us. The incentives that they were going to receive were based on revenue that was projected to be created as well as the number of jobs that were expected to be created,” said Denise Keehan-Smith, one of the candidates for the Queens district.

Candidate Glennis Gomez said that Council members have to negotiate when a large company wants to come to their neighborhood.

“In order to negotiate, you have to bring the community to the negotiation table, and you have to also let them know what the community wants. For any developer that wants to come in and offer jobs, or if they have any plan, City Council members have to sit with the community, understand the needs of our community, put that as a priority, and negotiate at that level,” said Gomez.

The various opinions came after Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama voted not to unionize in April. This sparked a conversation about working conditions and treatment of employees at Amazon facilities across the country. 

However, it also comes after New York Attorney General Letitia “Tish” A. James filed a lawsuit in  February alleging the company had inadequate health and safety conditions in fulfillment centers in Staten Island and Queens.

But Hilzenrath countered the company is doing all they can to better health and safety conditions.

“In 2020 alone, we committed over $1B in new investments to operations safety measures, ranging from technology investments in safety to masks, gloves, and the enhanced cleaning and sanitization required to protect employees from the spread of Covid-19,” she said.

Hilzenrath said the company is also launching sponsorship of a series of events in East New York and Brooklyn as they believe in being a responsible corporate neighbor.

These events include Amazon sponsoring Bike New York’s “Learn to Ride” event on June 19 in East New York’s Linden Park.

Additionally, the company committed to make a contribution to East New York’s District 19 public schools by supporting the Beam Center and its work with educators in District 19. 

Funding will be used to support educator workshops this summer and used to purchase materials for District 19 students come Fall 2021. Additionally, Amazon will provide support to District 19 directly through the Fund for Public Schools.

This story first appeared on PoliticsNY.com.

Correction (June 14, 9:30 am): An earlier version of this story erroneously referred to Wilfredo Florentino as Wilfredo Valentino. We regret the error.