Activists rally against a move to bring Amazon to the Newark airport. (Fran Baltzer for the New Jersey Monitor)
To a soundtrack of screeching brakes and honking trucks, a group of environmental advocates, Newark residents, and working immigrants held a rally Wednesday to protest an impending deal for an Amazon cargo hub at Newark’s airport.
“Every package you order to arrive in just minutes, every click you make — it has a cost. And who bears the cost? It’s the Black communities, immigrants, Latinx communities, workers, small businesses right here in Newark, Elizabeth, and Irvington,” said Terrance Bankston of Good Jobs, Clean Air New Jersey, a coalition of advocacy groups fighting the deal.
The $307 million agreement between the retail behemoth and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, approved by the agency’s commissioners Aug. 5, means a 20-year lease with Amazon for two airport buildings.
State officials welcomed the tech giant — one of New Jersey’s largest employers — saying Amazon’s investment will create 1,000 jobs and ensure Newark Liberty International Airport becomes a major player in the shipping industry. Amazon will revamp the two ’90s-era buildings to the tune of $150 million and pay another $157 million in rent to the agency over two decades.
But the 30 people gathered Wednesday at Weequahic Park in Newark — located just west of the airport — said the cons of bringing Amazon into the city’s South Ward far outweigh the pros. They held signs calling out how little Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, pay in federal taxes, including a sign drawn to look like a giant head of Bezos, the company’s former CEO and the richest man in the world.
One by one, former Amazon employees and city residents took the microphone to share their worries, from the quality of jobs being offered to added traffic problems to worsening air pollution. Each advocate’s speech ended with them yelling “What do we want?” and the crowd booming back, “Clean air!”
“Amazon’s expansion means more trucks on our streets, more planes in our skies, and more emissions. Our children’s health is at stake here,” said Bankston, a resident of Newark’s South Ward.
He noted the coalition is trying to stop Amazon coming to New Jersey “in its current form.” The agreement is expected to be finalized around Nov. 1 and start in early 2023.
Cheryl Ann Albiez, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority, said the negotiations with Amazon for the air cargo facility remain underway.
“All airport partners must ensure fairness in hiring practices and compliance with our airport wage mandates, which provide one of the highest airport minimum wages in the nation,” she said.
Airport employees will receive a minimum wage of $19 an hour by 2023.
The activists stressed they’re not against more jobs or economic help for New Jersey, but worry that what Bankston called a sneaky deal will further harm a city devastated by COVID-19.
He’s holding Zoom meetings to bring attention to Amazon’s footprint in Newark, which he said most residents don’t know about. No traffic study was done, there were no air quality tests, and no genuine Newark voices were considered when the Port Authority made the deal, he said.
“You know, we even could use resources to pave the roads. There’s been pushback on the deal as is, so let’s have a conversation and make sure the community is being heard,” he said.
The co-chair of Newark’s Environmental Commission, Wynnie-Fred Hinds, stressed the onslaught of pollutants that have been brought to low-income cities. Environmental racism leaves Newark’s residents “always in alert mode,” she said.
Every package you order to arrive in just minutes, every click you make, it has a cost. And who bears the cost? It's the Black communities, immigrants, Latinx communities, workers, small businesses right here in Newark, Elizabeth and Irvington.
– Terrance Bankston, Newark resident
Malika McCaw, a Newark resident who works with nonprofits, said she used to refer people for jobs at Amazon. After learning how overworked its employees are, she said, she regrets it.
McCaw also noted how the increase in Amazon trucks and tractor trailers on Newark streets would make it even harder to drive around the city.
Christian Rodriguez, a resident of the city’s Ironbound section, described their strenuous work in an Amazon warehouse. Rodriguez worked overnight shifts from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., often with mandatory overtime, and said they’d get written up for declining extra hours.
“We work for the richest man in the world, someone who takes a rocket to space for kicks. But as an Amazon worker, I was clocked — I couldn’t take breaks without hurrying my tasks up … or just to take a drink of water, I had to manually clock out,” they said.
A spokesperson for Newark Mayor Ras Baraka did not immediately respond for comment.
Bankston is holding a Zoom conference on Oct. 15 to continue educating residents on the impact Amazon brings, he said.
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