Amazon Abandons Warehouse Plan Because San Diego Is Considering Worker Protection Law

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Article by: Lauren Kaori Gurley

Amazon backed out of a last-mile distribution center project near San Diego, California, because of a proposed law that would require it to pay workers more and offer them stronger protections, Motherboard has confirmed.

The law, known as the Working Families Ordinance, would require that employers that operate on San Diego-county owned land pay the prevailing wage—which is based on union wages—and mandate 56 hours of annual sick leave for workers.

In a statement, Maria Boschetti, a spokesperson for Amazon confirmed that Amazon had backed out of the deal, but did not specify the reason why Amazon backed out of the project. "While we have decided not to pursue the site in El Cajon, we continue to assess opportunities to invest and grow across the region," she said. "We appreciate the time and attention committed by the City of San Diego, as well as local community leaders and officials.”

"Amazon is a dynamic business and we are constantly exploring new locations," Boschetti continued. "We weigh a variety of factors when deciding where to develop future sites to best serve our customers. It is common for us to explore multiple locations simultaneously and adjust based on our operational needs." 

But in a recent letter to the community obtained by Motherboard, Chesnut Properties, the developer of the Amazon warehouse in El Cajon, wrote that the Working Families Ordinance was the reason for Amazon's withdrawal from the project. 

"Just the threat (mention) of this ordinance has already cost over 400 great jobs for the Weld Property that I have been working on for over five years," the letter from Chesnut Properties said. The Weld Property refers to the site of the Amazon warehouse. 

"The proposed ordinance is, in my opinion, irresponsible in that the county leadership has put all business and ground lessees 'on notice' that a huge change is coming that will impose new wage costs on all of us," the letter continued.

In March, San Diego approved a proposal for the project. Chesnut Properties did not return a request for comment. 

Amazon's decision to pull out of the warehouse project is yet another example of the tech giant's opposition to working with unions and raising wages for employees. It also falls within a pattern of the company ignoring communities' requests for a say in how Amazon operates. This year, Amazon has campaigned against union drives at its Bessemer, Alabama and Staten Island, New York City warehouses. The company has also withdrawn from warehouse deals when it didn't get the tax breaks it wanted.

"[Amazon's] rhetoric is we’re creating good jobs for the people of San Diego, and they have come into many communities with promises around creating economic opportunity," Terra Lawson-Remer, the San Diego County supervisor who brought forward the ordinance, told Motherboard. "But once there were real expectations to pay enough so people don't live in poverty, Amazon walked away." 

The ordinance also requires that bidders on projects on public-owned land are held to certain safety, training, and living wage standards for warehouse workers. 

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