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"No other retailer in U.S. history has come anywhere close to such enrichment at public expense," asserted one opponent of the nine-figure subsidy.
Opponents of a contentious $1 billion subsidy for online retail behemoth Amazon's data centers in Oregon on Friday decried what one critic called "corporate welfare" for a company that raked in more than a half a trillion dollars in revenue last year.
Amazon already has four data centers in Morrow County, Oregon and plans on building six more Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud-computing facilities there. Earlier this month, Port of Morrow commissioners approved tax breaks for Amazon with an estimated value of $1 billion.
"With this new award, we now know of $6.1 billion in subsidies given to Amazon in the United States alone," said Kasia Tarczynska, a senior analyst at the public interest watchdog Good Jobs First. "No other retailer in U.S. history has come anywhere close to such enrichment at public expense."
\u201cAmazon gets a $1 billion corporate welfare payment for AWS data centers in rural Oregon, with residents getting one day's notice before the vote. https://t.co/4r0UzGAM7x\u201d— David Dayen (@David Dayen) 1684516422
While local officials hope the incentives will secure $12 in billion new investment by Amazon in the remote county on the Columbia River about 185 miles east of Portland, opponents bristled when residents were given just one day's notice before the final commission vote.
Oregonians are also angered by Amazon's efforts to fight proposed state legislation that would compel data centers to use clean energy.
In a statement following the commission's vote, Amazon said that "we've been an active member of eastern Oregon communities since 2011, investing more than $15.6 billion while supporting thousands of local jobs."
"Investments like these create and support high-paying, highly skilled jobs in local communities, and projects that benefit local education, healthcare, public services, and more," the company added.
Common Dreamsreported last year that Amazon dodged $5.2 billion in federal corporate taxes in 2021 while paying an effective tax rate of 6%, far lower than the statutory 21%.
\u201cAmazon made $514 billion in 2022.\n\nWe can\u2019t believe we need to say this, but here goes: Amazon. does. not. need. tax. breaks.\n\nhttps://t.co/bAvzbQTWXD\u201d— Patriotic Millionaires (@Patriotic Millionaires) 1684005900
Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy said Friday that "in a 2016 study looking at major internet companies and their data center subsidies, we found a cost per job of almost $2 million."
"The AWS grab in Morrow could be several times that," he added. "At these obscene costs, the only clear outcome is a massive transfer of wealth from Oregon taxpayers to Amazon shareholders."
As Good Jobs First argued: "Oregonians should not pay Amazon to do what it would do anyway."
"The BLET is currently working to secure similar sick leave agreements with the other Class 1 railroads," said the union's national president, "and I hope this settlement will help bring those negotiations to a positive conclusion."
A leading railroad workers' union this week struck a landmark deal with industry giant Norfolk Southern to provide more than 3,300 employees up to seven days of paid sick leave each year.
"This is a big day for the BLET," declared Scott Bunten, a Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen general chairman. "Our members are the heart of the railroad, and this agreement is a major win in our tireless efforts to improve the quality of their experience on and off the job."
Similarly describing the union's engineers as "the hardest-working folks on the railroad," fellow BLET chairman Jerry Sturdivant said the agreement "recognizes the critical contributions our members make to keep the railroad and the American economy running."
Under the deal, Norfolk Southern engineers will get five paid sick days annually, plus they will be able to use up to two additional days of existing paid time off as sick leave. The new policy will take effect once union members ratify an accompanying quality-of-life agreement, which they are expected to vote on within the next month.
\u201cThe Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and Norfolk Southern Corporation announced Thursday that they have reached an agreement to provide up to seven paid sick days per year to BLET members. \n\nRead the full story: https://t.co/lsuG4IACyw\u201d— Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (@Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen) 1684442616
"We are proud to be the first to have reached a paid sick leave agreement for our dedicated BLET membership," said Dewayne Dehart, another union general chairman. "This trailblazing new deal ensures that engineers finally have access to the time they need and deserve to manage their personal well-being."
Although Norfolk Southern president and CEO Alan Shaw refused to commit to seven paid sick days for all employees while testifying before Congress in March, this week he also highlighted the historic nature of the new agreement, saying it "continues our industry-leading effort to enhance quality of life as we become the first railroad to reach an engineer sick leave deal."
According to a joint statement from the company and union, "With this agreement, almost all Norfolk Southern craft employees—approximately 98%—have entered into paid sick leave deals."
As The Associated Pressreported:
This deal follows the model established by the conductors union in its first sick-time deals with Norfolk Southern and CSX. Those train crew workers are getting better deals, with five days of sick time, than the other smaller rail unions that received four days of sick time. But train crews work much more unpredictable and demanding schedules than other rail workers.
The railroads have also agreed to pay workers for any unused sick time at the end of the year.
"The BLET is currently working to secure similar sick leave agreements with the other Class 1 railroads," said Eddie Hall, the union's national president, "and I hope this settlement will help bring those negotiations to a positive conclusion."
Railroad employees and their unions have generated national discussions about paid leave over the past year. In December, President Joe Biden signed related legislation—which blocked a looming strike and forced through a White House-brokered agreement that did not include any paid sick leave—while ignoring calls for an executive order guaranteeing rail workers sick days.
Since then, Norfolk Southern has become a household name, and federal lawmakers have proposed rail safety reforms, in the wake of a company train that carried hazardous materials derailing in East Palestine, Ohio—near the Pennsylvania border—in February.
The new deal comes as paid sick leave advocates on Capitol Hill renew their push for national legislation. Joined by leaders from nursing and railway unions on Wednesday, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) along with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced the Healthy Families Act (HFA) and the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act.
Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, said that "the BRS would like to thank those members of Congress who support paid sick leave. Rail workers were deemed essential during the pandemic. They came to work sick because they didn't want to miss a day's pay, or worse be disciplined for their absence."
"This legislation is important to rail workers," Baldwin added of the HFA. "It is an essential need, and it isn't just a frivolous want."
"We don't need to give in to Republican extortion or default," the House progressives asserted. "The Constitution grants the president another option."
After GOP House negotiators bailed on U.S. debt ceiling talks on Friday, around two-thirds of the Congressional Progressive Caucus urged President Joe Biden to "invoke his constitutional authority granted in the 14th Amendment" in order "to end Republican hostage-taking of the economy that could trigger a financial catastrophe."
Led by Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Deputy Chair Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Whip Greg Casar (D-Texas), 66 CPC members sent Biden a letter noting the "unremitting efforts by congressional Republicans to hold the economic health of our nation hostage," and calling on him to "fulfill the executive's constitutional duty to faithfully and impartially administer the funds already enacted by law at the direction of Congress."
The letter—which follows a similar call from some Senate Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—cites Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which states that "the validity of the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned."
Biden said earlier this month that he has been "considering" invoking the 14th Amendment, "but the problem is, it would have to be litigated," and "I don't think that solves our problem now."
\u201cNEW: 66 CPC members are calling on @POTUS to prepare all possible measures, including invoking the 14th Amendment, to protect our economy.\n\nWe don't need to give into Republican extortion or default. The Constitution grants the President another option.\nhttps://t.co/qriXLfepBi\u201d— Progressive Caucus (@Progressive Caucus) 1684528145
"Congressional Republicans who now refuse to pass a clean debt ceiling increase voted on three separate occasions under President [Donald] Trump to raise the debt ceiling without any preconditions or extraneous, harmful policies attached," the lawmakers noted. "They now threaten the full faith and credit of the United States, which Treasury Secretary [Janet] Yellen warned would 'produce an economic and financial catastrophe' and could occur as soon as June 1."
The letter points out that although House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) "stated that 'the greatest threat to our future is our national debt,' he led House Republicans in passing the 'Limit, Save, Grow Act,' which rescinds funding for [Internal Revenue Service] enforcement against tax evasion by wealthy individuals, which would increase the deficit by nearly $500 billion over the next 10 years."
"Republicans—who in 2017 voted unanimously to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that increased the federal deficit by $1.9 trillion over 10 years, with 83% of the law's benefits estimated to accrue to the richest 1% by 2027—also rejected commonsense proposals offered by your negotiators to close tax loopholes and raise revenue in the current budget discussions," the progressives added.
\u201cBREAKING: 60+ of us @USProgressives are calling on @POTUS to follow his constitutional responsibilities and end the Republican default crisis.\n\nWe should not let right-wing extremists risk the livelihoods of millions just to give further tax cuts to their corporate donors.\u201d— Congressman Greg Casar (@Congressman Greg Casar) 1684526306
The letter continues:
We believe that relenting to Congressional Republicans' economic ransom and negotiating on devastating budget cuts, additional work requirements for essential food and economic support, and fast-tracking fossil fuel projects that undermine our shared climate achievements is antithetical to our shared Democratic values. Surrendering to these extremist demands also sets a dangerous precedent that emboldens Republicans to pursue additional, anti-democratic hostage-taking, particularly after having been told previously that a clean debt ceiling increase was nonnegotiable.
GOP leaders insist that any debt ceiling deal would have to come with cuts to social safety net programs, and Biden has signaled his openness to considering some reductions. The CPC letter warns that the Republican framework could take jobs from 780,000 people; nutrition assistance from 1.2 million women, infants, and children; Medicaid coverage from up to 21 million Americans; rental assistance from 640,000 families; and more.
"If the options are either agreeing to major cuts to domestic priorities under the Republican threat of destroying the economy and moving forward to honor America's debts, we join prominent legal scholars, economists, former budget officials, and a former president in advocating for invoking the 14th Amendment of the Constitution," the progressives wrote.
"Not only does the debt ceiling run counter to the Constitution's mandate that the validity of America's public debt shall not be questioned," their letter adds, "it contradicts the appropriations law that requires the Treasury to issue debt for the funding you are obligated to administer at Congress' direction."