Spectrum and Amazon are two of the fastest-growing companies in the United States. In recent years, they have become behemoths, with the help of taxpayer-funded support from state and local governments.
Now, they are looking to apply their model of rapid expansion right here in the five boroughs. From New York government agencies, Spectrum has already received more than $11 million in subsidies, while Amazon has already received more than $20 million.
They both want to monopolize the New York City market, with Spectrum dominating telecommunications and with Amazon dominating online retail.
Amazon is also tightening its trip on the grocery industry through its acquisition of Whole Foods, and holds 30-40% of the data market.
Yet each one has a history of mistreating workers, consumers, and communities, and their worst practices will harm many local residents.
City and state elected officials should be highly skeptical of Spectrum and Amazon, and require them to do business differently and better in New York.
Consider Spectrum. It’s one of the largest cable and internet providers in the nation. Earlier this year, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued the company for lying about the quality of its internet services. His high-profile lawsuit follows on the heels of numerous complaints about hidden fees and other irresponsible practices that harm customers.
Last year, Spectrum CEO Tom Rutledge was awarded nearly $100 million in total compensation, which makes him the highest-paid CEO in the United States, according to research firm Equilar.
Around the country, Spectrum has more than 90,000 employees, but only about 2,500 are represented by a union. A significant number of those unionized workers are here in New York and represented by IBEW Local 3. The workers have been on strike for over eight months now because the company refuses to negotiate a fair contract: they are struggling to support their families, and some face eviction from their homes. The company can afford $100 million for the CEO but refuses to pay for modest wage increases, decent pensions, and affordable healthcare.
Amazon’s record is even worse than Spectrum’s.
The report Amazon’s Stranglehold by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance illustrates how Amazon “increasingly controls the underlying infrastructure of the economy,” while undermining jobs and wages, and weakening the fabric of our communities.
By the end of 2015, Amazon had already eliminated about 149,000 more jobs in retail than it has created in its warehouses. And its growing market share has caused over 135 million square feet of retail space to become vacant, the equivalent of about 700 empty big-box stores plus 22,000 shuttered Main Street businesses.
Amazon’s exploitative workplace culture - in its warehouses and offices - has been reported in numerous news outlets over the last several years. Let alone the fact that it lags way behind other brands in addressing serious labor abuses throughout its sprawling global supply chain.
Yet the company has been allowed to expand across the five boroughs with virtually no government scrutiny of its business and employment practices.
Amazon already has a large distribution center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and is planning a similar facility in Staten Island, along with a huge new office on the west side of Manhattan, in addition to its extensive logistics network. The company is considering opening its new corporate headquarters in the Big Apple too.
Both companies are low-road employers who undermine communities, disrespect workers, and constrain consumer choice – all while collecting millions in taxpayer dollars they don’t need or deserve.
Their goal is to create and maintain monopolies, with little regard for the long-term impact on the cities and states where they control the market.
They’re Walmart on steroids, and they’re addicted to public money.
Now is the moment for all of New York City’s elected officials to step up and hold Spectrum and Amazon to much higher standards. Specifically, they should oppose corporate welfare, and uphold New York City values by ensuring a fair contract and a decent wage for workers.
They should pressure these companies to make long-term investments in New York that strengthen worker protections and neighborhoods, instead of undermining them. If these companies continue business as usual, our city will be worse off.