An warehouse and fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota. Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

When the news broke of Pennsylvania-based Bluewater Property Group’s plans to develop an Amazon distribution center between Waterbury and Naugatuck, my first thought was, “I’m sure we’re not going down that road again.”

Imagine my surprise when I saw not only Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and Naugatuck Mayor Pete Hess but members of the Waterbury General Assembly delegation and the governor’s office touting this as the wave Waterbury resident’s will ride into the future.

Bilal Tajildeen

According to the Republican American’s coverage of the event, Rep. Geraldo Reyes of Waterbury’s 75th District said “It is on the side of town that I believe needs the biggest jolt. There are a lot building blocks down here in the South End. This would be the crown jewel.”

Not even a year ago, the New York Times released an article, “Power and Peril: 5 Takeaways on Amazon’s Employment Machine,” drawing national attention to the egregious labor violations of only one of Amazon’s warehouses. The investigation found deeply concerning realities: a weekly 3% turnover rate; an inadequate computer system that causes employees to lose benefits or even get fired; a workplace culture that mires workers in fear; racial inequity in its treatment of workers of color; the fact that these toxic aspects of employment with Amazon are central to its operations.

These horrors are not new, either. In 2019, the Atlantic published an article, “Ruthless Quotas at Amazon Are Maiming Employees” in which the horrendous culture and process by which Amazon strips its employees of basic decency is fully exposed.

I find it shocking– and telling– that Rep. Reyes, whose district has some of the highest unemployment rates in the state, would welcome such workplace violations as a crown jewel in his district. Moreover, that Mayor O’Leary, Rep. Ron Napoli, and Sen. Joan Hartley, who herself is the Chair of the Commerce Committee, would echo their unquestioning enthusiasm of the plan shows how out of touch they are with worker’s needs. The Republican American article that broke the news states, “Amazon employees in Connecticut can earn up to $17.75 per hour, according to the company’s online job postings.”

Up to? $17.75 should be the starting range for a city constantly in the top five highest mill rates in the state, with some of the worst unemployment rates and some of the lowest per-pupil spending in the state. The Waterbury delegation may as well say that they feel Waterbury workers are worthless to them unless they can be used as fodder to feed one of the planet’s most environmentally devastating corporations that actively undermines workers’ rights.

If the Waterbury delegation had taken the time to speak to their constituency, they would know that this is not a victory for Waterbury’s advancement. In a city that is in a constant state of either knocking down old factories, desperately trying to find money to refurbish factories when they aren’t on brownfields, my delegation thought it would be a good idea to build another mega building.

As a person who is devoted to both my hometown and the town I bought a home in, I would rather see the O’Leary administration develop mixed-used commercial/residential space. Imagine the impact that could be created if all of this energy and money would be put toward producing small shops for local businesses, restaurants, co-working spaces, and short-term business pop-ups, all of which would have safe, affordable, and dignified housing on top.

And when this factory shuts down, can’t afford to pay its workers a wage for the 21st century, or ends up hiring a majority of employees who are not Waterbury residents, what will Waterbury do then? Has our delegation explored or considered a wage analysis that can tell us whether employees here would be able to buy a home in five years?

If the Waterbury delegation has decided it won’t support Waterbury-grown businesses, they need to at least guarantee that the businesses that do get their support will ensure local homeownership and a commitment to building an onramp to middle class economic security.

If a business can’t, why should we be excited?

Waterbury residents deserve a delegation whose policies safeguard its future and protect its present.

Bilal Tajildeen lives in Waterbury.