Port Authority’s deal with Amazon violated board’s public meeting rules, report says

$462M deal would lead to Amazon hub at Newark’s airport

By: - October 21, 2021 6:50 am

Newark Libery International Airport is expected to be home to a new Amazon air cargo hub. (Courtesy Newark Liberty International Airport)

A new report claims the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey approved a massive deal for an Amazon cargo hub at the Newark airport through backroom deals with little transparency, and alleges Amazon’s unfair labor practices violate the agency’s code of ethics.

Published by Hedge Clippers, a national labor advocacy organization, the report highlights the Aug. 5 meeting where the Port Authority approved the $462 million deal with Amazon for a 20-year lease for two buildings at Newark Airport.

The meeting’s agenda didn’t initially include the vote on the Amazon deal, which was later added to the end of the agenda, and there was no public comment or testimony on the proposal, according to the report, which states this was a violation of board policy.

“This paints an accurate picture of Amazon’s disregard of the community and also reflects the disregard Port Authority has had for over 20 years around pollution, transparency, and other matters in the report,” said Amy Goldsmith, the state director of Clean Water Action, an advocacy group involved in the Good Jobs, Clean Air New Jersey coalition fighting the impending lease.

The report’s findings were first reported by Politico.

Asked for comment, the Port Authority said in an email there was a competitive public bidding process for the Amazon buildings, adding negotiations are already underway for the air cargo facility approved Aug. 5. The agency’s email noted the airport’s minimum wage is set to rise to $19 an hour by 2023 and the agency has a goal to award 20% of contracts to minority-owned businesses and 10% to women business owners.

The agency declined to comment on the report’s allegations.

The Hedge Clippers report alleges the Port Authority “often makes critical decisions in closed-door executive decisions.”

“What goes on behind the scenes, we don’t know. They don’t disclose everything and this project, it’s not different from many other things they’ve done. They’re not an entrusted partner — you can’t trust them,” said Goldsmith, who has previously sued the Port Authority over denying her access to public records.

Critics of the Port Authority-Amazon deal say it would have a devastating effect on the largely Black and brown communities that surround the airport, a claim echoed by the Hedge Clippers report. About half of Newark’s residents are Black, and Elizabeth is 65% Latino. A group of 30 activists and residents gathered in Newark earlier this month to protest the deal and what they say will be its detrimental impact.

Critics say Amazon’s expansion in Essex County would further what they call environmental racism in towns like Irvington, Elizabeth, and Newark, cities that also neighbor Port Newark and the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal. About 15,000 trucks travel through the area on any given day, the report states, and residents near these ports are exposed to harmful pollutants.

Children from Newark are three times as likely to have asthma, and diesel levels in the air can reach up to 1,000 times more than what’s safe to breathe.

No traffic study on the Amazon airport deal has been released, so it’s hard to know the direct impact more Amazon trucks and flights could have on the communities, but the report predicts Amazon will increase its toxic contributions to the environment.

And the report echoes another sticking point for protesters: Amazon’s growing footprint will kill more small businesses and help give the retail giant an essential monopoly. An estimated 65,000 small retailers nationwide went out of business between 2007 and 2017, citing Amazon’s hold on the online marketplace as a main factor, according to a 2019 study in the Hedge Clippers report. 

Protesters rallying against a deal between the Port Authority and Amazon in Newark on Oct. 6. (Fran Baltzer for the New Jersey Monitor)

State officials have touted the deal as a jobs creator that will add 1,000 new jobs and make Newark a leader in the air cargo supply chain. The report claims because of Amazon’s poor labor practices, the tech giant violates the Port Authority’s Lessee Code of Ethics, which requires businesses to comply with fair employment practices.

“Our biggest concern is that we want good jobs, clean air, and healthy communities. There’s nothing we’ve seen that will get us any of those things,” said Goldsmith.

A protester in Newark said during the rally when they worked in an Amazon warehouse they were forced to clock out to take a sip or water and were required to work overtime, even if they were late to their second job.

“If the Newark deal goes through, Amazon’s presence is poised to decrease or destroy local retailers while driving up warehouse rents for smaller businesses,” the report reads.

Goldsmith called on the state Legislature to revisit failed bills that would require greater transparency from the Port Authority. And while the Amazon hub may seem like a done deal with the lease expected to be signed in early November, advocates hope enough public pressure could delay the agreement.

“Could (Port Authority) make the Amazon project better? Yeah. Are there things the community wants that Amazon and the richest guy in the world can agree to do? Yes. It’s just whether they feel enough pressure from enough different places to weigh in,” Goldsmith said.


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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.