Labor leaders are blasting the e-commerce giant Amazon, accusing it of not hiring local workers to build a $30 million “fulfillment center” in Findlay Township – allegations the company denies.
“It is appalling to find out that Amazon is rejecting our workers and bringing in multiple out-of-state contractors to build its new facility in Findlay,” read a Thursday-afternoon statement from Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council President Darrin Kelly. “Amazon undercut us from the beginning. …. You don’t make a big announcement promising a bunch of new jobs in Pennsylvania, then show up with cheaper labor from out of state. We urge all our elected officials to stand with us and prevent Amazon from exploiting our region for its own profits."
In an interview with WESA, Kelly said, “We have heard from numerous contractors who have said, ‘We have called, we have tried, they have not returned our phone calls.’ ... All you got to do is go out to the site in Findlay and look at the license plates. That’s the first tell-tale sign of what they’re doing here.”
Kelly said it was “extremely unheard of for a company the size of Amazon to bring in an out-of-state developer with out-of-state contractors. …. Is this the type of relationship that we’re going to have? It’s going to be very uncomfortable.”
Amazon denied that the company had excluded local workers.
“Amazon is proud to support the creation of job opportunities for area residents before our new fulfillment center in Findlay Township even opens," spokeswoman Rachel Lighty said in a statement. "Amazon, local Pittsburgh company and property owner Chapman Properties, and the project developer, Hillwood Properties, are currently working with various local construction crews from Pittsburgh and across Western Pennsylvania, as well as across the state. Both union and non-union, local subcontractors were given an opportunity to bid and currently the developer .... has eight local subcontractors from PA and Ohio under contract. This includes both union and non-union local workers. Awarding of the work is an on-going process and is expected to continue for several more months. ”
An executive with Chapman said Friday that while the firm managed the business park in which the center would be located, it had no role in selecting contractors for construction of the facility itself. But after initially declining to speak Thursday, Texas-based Hillwood said it was not shunning local workers.
“I’m absolutely convinced that we acted in good faith,” said Gary Frederick, a Hillwood executive who represents the firm in the Northeastern United States.
Frederick confirmed that the project was slated to use eight area subcontractors, with more contracts still up for grabs. “We like to use [local firms] where we can” in part because of price advantages: “Because they don’t have to travel.”
Still, he said, “This is a million-square-foot building, and there aren’t many of those in Pittsburgh.” And “we have to make sure [bidders] have the equipment and manpower to work on schedule. We’re betting millions of dollars on these projects.”
He said he had never encountered such controversy before – though the firm has built fulfillment centers elsewhere and isn’t doing anything differently this time around. “This is our first job in western Pennsylvania, and maybe things are different here,” he said. And in any case, “Amazon is a big target."
Kelly called it "a laughable lie" to suggest that there weren't local contractors capable of working on the project. "We do projects this size and double it, all throughout the year." Kelly said that he was prepared to keep up pressure until "they recognize this is not how you do business." And he praised the response from elected officials from Gov. Tom Wolf on down, which he said was "like nothing I've ever seen."
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, for one, tweeted that he was "committed to protecting taxpayers' investgment in job creation through this important project." Gov. Tom Wolf also expressed concern, telling WESA that he planned to call developers Monday to say "We appreciate your coming and creating jobs in Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, but be sensitive to the local needs here and hire local.”
The fulfillment center’s construction was warmly received by local officials, who’d been disappointed when the firm chose not to build a second headquarters in Pittsburgh. The fulfillment center was projected to create 800 full-time jobs and received $1.6 million in state tax credits.
Amie Downs, a spokesperson for Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, largely declined comment Thursday, but said the county hoped to work out the concerns with Amazon.
In a late-evening statement, the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development, said that Wolf “stands with labor and echoes their concern that Pennsylvania workers have not been employed on this project up to now. The governor encourages the developers to reverse course and employ Pennsylvania workers as they build this center.”
But the DCED statement noted that the incentives were for full-time jobs at the facility – not for the construction work of building it – and that they were “specifically for Amazon, not Hillwood Group, the entity constructing the building. Amazon is required to create new, full-time Amazon jobs in order to receive the Job Creation Tax Credits that were approved for this project.”