Amazon is expanding its network of warehouses in Connecticut, drawn by open space coveted in the crowded Northeast and access to nearby highways that bring the lucrative and populous region within its grasp.
The state also offers something the online retail giant is not looking for: protests from organized labor and its Democratic allies in the legislature angry that nonunion labor is used to build the massive warehouses.
“We’re going to put Amazon on notice about the exploitation of workers,” said Joe Toner, president of the Hartford Building Trades Council.
The building trades unions, Connecticut AFL-CIO, leaders of the General Assembly’s Labor Committee and others say Amazon’s hiring of out-of-state contractors on a 3.5 million square-foot distribution center in Windsor puts Connecticut at risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. Organized labor has asked, without success, Gov. Ned Lamont to issue an executive order establishing out-of-state construction firms, unlike Connecticut contractors, as non-essential and requiring 14-day quarantines.
Amazon said in a statement it requires its employees, general contractor and all subcontractors to comply with applicable COVID-19 regulations, including executive orders, that allow “workers supporting the construction of critical infrastructure to continue work.”
Critics also cited A&D Welding, a Winston, Ga., contractor that was issued three stop work orders by the Connecticut Department of Labor for failing to contribute to workers compensation. Toner said nonunion contractors have underbid their union counterparts by paying as much as $50 an hour less per worker in pay and benefits.
“If that’s what we’re hanging our hats on in Connecticut, that’s pretty sad,” he said.
A&D Welding did not return a call seeking comment.
The facility, which Amazon said in May would hire 1,000 workers over two years, is the retailer’s second center in Windsor. Town officials are reviewing a special use site plan application for a third, a so-called package distribution facility in an existing building.
Windsor is fortunate to have access to the state’s transportation network and large parcels of privately owned land, he said. The town is not focused exclusively on warehouses, but also has welcomed manufacturing and financial services firms, Town Manager Peter Souza said.
Amazon in June announced plans for a fulfillment center in Cromwell that, with the proposed Windsor site, would be its ninth center in Connecticut.
Internet sales are surging with shoppers avoiding the risks of contracting COVID-19 by using online sites and avoiding brick-and-mortar retailers. And Amazon is under pressure from competitors such as Walmart, which is using its thousands of stores for same-day delivery of online orders.
Amazon also has become a political target. On Monday, unions and the leaders of the General Assembly’s labor committee plan to protest Amazon’s “irresponsible and unsafe labor practices” with a press conference outside Amazon’s distribution center in Windsor.
With a market value of nearly $1.5 trillion, Amazon generated $280 billion in revenue last year. The retail giant has been criticized by unions and liberal Democrats for what they say is low pay for warehouse workers and pitting cities and states against each other to win favorable economic development aid.
Windsor Mayor Donald S. Trinks will not be joining the protest.
“I’m sure there are a lot of first selectmen and mayors who would give their left arm for what we’ve got,” he said.
After accounting for nearly $7.5 million in a real estate abatement over three years and $1.3 million in a building permit reduction, Windsor will receive $10.5 million in tax revenue from Amazon over the same period, Souza said.
Trinks said the financial breaks were the result of negotiations between Windsor and Amazon, which sought to pay zero taxes over seven years. “They knew that wouldn’t happen,” he said.
“I hope Amazon thinks we’re business-friendly,” the mayor said. “We’re not giving away the store by any means.”
State Rep. Christopher Davis, R-Ellington, compared unions and their legislative allies with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who took credit for helping to scuttle Amazon’s second headquarters planned for Queens.
“I don’t understand why there’s such opposition to creating hundreds, if not thousands of jobs in the Hartford area,” he said. “We should not be doing anything to prevent this from happening.”
Stephen Singer can be reached at [email protected]
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