Amazon gets final okay for its new HQ in Arlington, despite organised labour protest

Patricia Sullivan

THE WASHINGTON POST – Amazon can build twin 22-storey headquarters buildings in Pentagon City, the Arlington County Board (Virginia) agreed last Saturday in a five-to-zero vote, after the online giant promised USD20 million in funding for affordable housing and vowed to crack down on labour fraud on its construction site.

It was the final approval Amazon needed to begin building its second headquarters, known as HQ2, in Arlington County, and it came after a four-hour hearing where the only friction was provided by about 100 union carpenters and building trade workers upset by what they said was payroll fraud on the part of contractors and subcontractors working on the company’s temporary headquarters.

HQ2 is expected to be completed by 2023 and could transform the predominantly high-rise residential and low-rise warehouse district into anew centre of urban life.

The headquarters will house about 12,500 employees – half the expected 25,000 Amazon employees who will eventually work in the area. Hundreds of employees are already working in leased offices around Crystal City, and another Amazon headquarters building in the neighbourhood is working its way through the planning process, most likely to come up for approval next year. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The outcome of the board’s vote was never really in doubt, because Arlington officials and most residents welcomed the company’s announcement 13 months ago that it had selected the area including Pentagon City, Crystal City and Potomac Yard as the home for HQ2.

But union carpenters filled the hearing room to protest, alleging payroll fraud and misclassification of workers who are renovating existing structures for Amazon’s temporary quarters. Amazon promised earlier this week to require that contractors and subcontractors working on its headquarters pay the same local prevailing wages to labourers and mechanics they would have to pay if it were a federal contract in excess of USD2,000. The company also said that contractors and subcontractors could not employ independent contractors without Amazon’s approval.

Executive Director of the Baltimore-District of Columbia Building Trades union Stephen Courtien, said the proposal is “a good idea, but nothing they discussed is very innovative. It comes down to the contractor and he’s self-reporting. They’re not going to know who’s on the job, off the books.”