CUNY Students Protest Amazon Deal

About 20 current students and graduates of the City University of New York held a rally outside the office of the CUNY board of trustees chairman on Friday morning to protest his support for the arrival of Amazon in Long Island City, Queens.

CUNY students rallied against the Amazon deal outside the office of William Thompson, the CUNY board of trustees chairman, on Friday morning. (The Ink/Katherine Shi)

Demonstrators chanted “College is not corporation, you should fund our education!” while holding signs that read “Kill the Deal” and “Fund CUNY Bye Bye No Amazon.” In speeches, students demanded that board chair William Thompson Jr. rescind his support for the Amazon deal and instead advocate for the money to be invested in CUNY. The company could receive nearly $3 billion in tax breaks and other incentives from the state and city.

Amazon announced its decision to establish a new headquarters in Long Island City on Nov. 13.  In a Nov. 13 CUNY press release, Thompson wrote that CUNY would commit considerable college assets to ensure that Amazon has a strong pipeline for talent, ideas and innovation. On Nov. 21, Thompson and CUNY Interim Chancellor Vita Rabinowitz wrote an op-ed in the New York Daily News voicing their support for the Amazon deal and argued that Amazon will offer more high-paying job opportunities for CUNY students.

Demonstrators outside Thompson’s office. (The Ink/Katherine Shi)

Protestors raised several objections to the Amazon deal, including the company’s sale of facial recognition technology to Immigration and Customs Enforcement that can help it to track, detain and deport immigrants.

“We do not want to work for a corporation that works with ICE when many of our classmates or friends are undocumented or immigrants,” said Corrinne Greene, a senior at Brooklyn College. “We do not want to support a company that’s engaging in corporate welfare, that’s taking our tax money that should be used to invest in our education.”

Protestors also said that money allotted to Amazon should be invested in public higher education. They said CUNY lacks funding for basic resources including infrastructure and that faculty members are poorly paid.

“A lot of our professors are adjunct faculties,” said Greene. “They are excellent educators, but they are making less than they would be making working full-time at a fast-food restaurant.”

According to the CUNY Adjunct Project, an advocacy group, adjuncts made up 59 percent of CUNY’s total faculty in 2015 and were only paid 29 to 38 percent of what full-time faculty members were paid.

Protestors also said that elected officials would rather fund the richest man in the world, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, instead of working class students and their families. Many students struggle to pay their tuition and are forced to drop out, they said.

Seth Pollack, a 2012 graduate of Queens College, said he was upset to see a mass investment made in a major corporation instead of a mass investment in education. “CUNY junior colleges and community colleges can desperately use the funding” said Pollack.

Rally-goers called for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to invest the money in education, so that students will be well-prepared for whatever job that they may take after college.

At the rally, Marni Halasa, who ran for the City Council in District 3 last year against Corey Johnson, said she believes elected officials are more compromised in making decisions when they accept campaign contributions from corporations.

“There needs to be more blame on the elected officials,” said Halasa. “The City Council and the mayor’s office are becoming failed institutions, they are not working for the people anymore because they are compromised by so much corporate money.”

Asked for comment about the student protests, a CUNY spokesperson, Frank Sobrino, said in an email that the “Board of Trustees Chairperson Thompson and Chancellor Rabinowitz have made numerous points in support of Amazon coming to New York City, including that the company’s arrival represents an extraordinary opportunity for CUNY students and thousands of New Yorkers of diverse backgrounds and means.”