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Amazon vs. politicians was the biggest feud in retail this year

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Amazon‘s growing power and influence did not go unchecked in 2018.

An increasing number of elected officials criticized Amazon on topics ranging from HQ2 to employee pay, leading to feuds between them and the company. President Donald Trump, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the city councils of both New York City and Seattle all spoke out against Amazon this year, though they addressed different topics.

Amazon has fought back with varying degrees of intensity.

The Seattle City Council and the head tax

Toward the beginning of the year was Amazon’s spat with Seattle’s city council.

In May, the council voted for a new tax on large employers in the city. It would have been an annual tax of about $275 for each full-time employee, and it was expected to take effect later this year. The so-called head tax was meant to raise millions in city funds to help fight homelessness in Seattle.

Amazon was a vocal critic of the tax and said it would halt construction on two towers in the city center if it went through.

“We are disappointed by today’s city council decision to introduce a tax on jobs,” Amazon vice president Drew Herdener said in a statement after the vote to implement the head tax passed in May. “While we have resumed construction planning for Block 18, we remain very apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here.”

In June, the council voted to repeal the tax before it ever went into effect.

Sanders and employee pay

Then, there was the months-long feud between the company and Sanders.

“While Jeff Bezos’ wealth has increased $260 million every single day this year, he continues to pay many Amazon employees wages so low that they’re forced to depend on taxpayer-funded programs such as food stamps, Medicaid and public housing to survive,” Sanders tweeted in August.

As Sanders’ attacks escalated, Amazon responded. The retailer published a blog post on its website titled “Response to Senator Sanders,” calling Sen. Bernie Sanders’ claims about the company “inaccurate and misleading.”

The post went on to tout the company’s pay and benefits, as well as the working conditions in its warehouses — areas that Sanders has repeatedly criticized.

Then, in October, Amazon announced it would bump up its starting pay to $15 an hour for all of its workers making less than that.

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, said in a statement. “We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”

The feud continues, as both Sanders and Warren sent a letter to Amazon later in October asking the company to explain the “potentially illegal” activity showcased in a video about unions that the company reportedly shows to management, the Washington Post reported.

HQ2 fallout

One of the most rollercoaster events of the year was when Amazon staged a contest to decide where to place its second headquarters, which it calls HQ2.

The contest culminated in Amazon choosing the two places that were arguably the most likely choices all along: Northern Virginia and Queens, New York.

New York politicians were immediately critical.

“Amazon is a billion-dollar company,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”

“Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,” New York City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer and state Sen. Michael Gianari said in joint statement.

Amazon showed up for a fiery city council hearing, where it — along with New York City’s Economic Development Corporation — was peppered with questions ranging from how the deal circumvented the council, what Amazon will do for the city, how it will impact quality of life, and why Amazon needs a helicopter pad.

“We are still in the very early stages of this process and intend to be an active participant in the issues facing the community and make community investments that benefit New York City residents,” Amazon’s vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, said in opening remarks at the hearing.

“Most importantly, we are here to listen and learn. New York is one of the greatest cities in the world and we are grateful for the opportunity to be a contributing part of its fabric.”

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