Amid Washington’s graduation season, we look at the craft of writing and delivering commencement speeches. What advice sticks — and what doesn’t?
Montgomery County students organizing under the social justice organization MoCo Students for Change will lead a regional school walkout on Thursday to protest gun violence.
Kojo checks in with WAMU’s Esther Ciammachilli on what’s motivating students and what their demands are.
Produced by Ruth Tam
- Esther Ciammachilli Host and Reporter, WAMU 88.5
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Should Arlington County Board members vote yes or no on the $23 million incentive package for Amazon? We'd like to know what you think. Give us a call 800-433-8850. Later in the broadcast a live report from the U.S. Capital where area high schools students are demonstrating against gun violence. But first this Saturday Arlington County's Board members will vote on a $23 million incentive package for Amazon that will span 15 years.
KOJO NNAMDIWe'll get to that incentive package in a moment, but we're wondering what we might learn from a city that has had a long experience with Amazon, Seattle, home to Amazon HQ1. So how has the Seattle City Council navigated its relationship with a company that's grown from startup to one of the world's largest? We'll be talking with a member of the Seattle City council. But joining me in studio right now is Matt de Ferranti who is an Arlington County Board Member. Matt, thank you for joining us.
MATT DE FERRANTIGreat to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDISo tell us what the vote is going to be on on Saturday.
FERRANTISure. The performance agreement that we'll be considering is about 12 pages and it's really focused on narrowly on an incentive package that Arlington is going to be considering. The state has also contributed a significant amount. There's been two state legislative pieces that have moved forward. But on Saturday really we're focused on an incentive package that is really -- there are two primary pieces. One is a hotel tax slice incentive and another is investment in infrastructure. So that's the big picture of what we'll be considering on Saturday.
NNAMDIThis is an incentive package. So what exactly does that mean?
FERRANTISo the -- I'm really glad you asked that because the way that this incentive package is structured is Amazon has to come and meet standards for amount of office space that it occupies in the first year and then in the second year if they've met those levels then they get 15 percent of the growth in the hotel tax over a period of 15 years. So in that sense it's really if Amazon didn't come here then that money wouldn't exist. And I think that's why it's a well-structured performance agreement that we'll be looking at on Saturday.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk a little bit about the experience that the city of Seattle, Washington has had with Amazon. Joining us by phone -- or joining us from the studios of KUOW in Seattle, Washington is Teresa Mosqueda. She is a Seattle City Council Member. Teresa Mosqueda, thank you for joining us.
TERESA MOSQUEDAThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIHow long have you been a member of the Seattle City Council?
MOSQUEDAWell, just over a year. I got elected in November 2017. And congratulations, by the way, on your election Board Member.
FERRANTIThanks very much. Appreciate it, very kind.
NNAMDITeresa, how would you characterize the relationship between your city government and Amazon?
MOSQUEDAWell, it's interesting, you know. I would say that despite the last year, there really hasn't been a ton of interaction back and forth, you know. It was one of the sort of sleeping giants that grew right underneath our nose without us really realizing how fast it was growing and the impact it would have on Seattle. You all know the statistics. Seattle is one of the most fastest growing cities in the nation and we did not anticipate the type of growth that happened.
MOSQUEDABy the time they consolidated their headquarters here in 2012 to just last year, we have seen a population growth beyond what we could imagine. We saw almost a 20 percent increase in our population. Over 115,000 people moved to our region since the beginning of this decade. And we didn't have the housing stock to keep up. We didn't have the infrastructure, the buses. And so the rapid change that we saw in our city really -- I would not wish that upon another city. I think you have the opportunity to learn from what Seattle could never anticipate and that's to build the housing and the infrastructure. And to create the worker protections, which we did a lot of as well.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about some of the things you learned in Seattle. One interaction with you and Amazon made national headlines. The so called "head tax." Last May Seattle City Council passed that tax on companies making more than $20 million a year. The idea was to create a source of revenue precisely to fight homelessness. Can you explain that tax?
MOSQUEDAAbsolutely. So as your listeners may know in Washington State and in Seattle we have zero income tax, zero capital gains, zero corporate income tax. And we have needs that community must have like housing infrastructure and education. We can't fund these items without additional revenue especially with this growing population. So one of the concepts was to come up with either a payroll tax or a hours tax as it was called at the time. The large companies through the chamber said, you know, in late 2017, Hold off. Hold off. Don't create a tax without us being at the table.
MOSQUEDAThe Councilmembers at the time created a taskforce. I was elected in January. That taskforce came together. The very companies that asked for this taskforce to be convened then boycotted the process. But we ended up coming up with a process that would allow for us to get about $75 million in hand per year. As someone who comes from labor, I'm used to sitting down and hammering out tough negotiations. I called anybody in business and said, you might not like this, but we want it to be workable and implementable. Tell us what you need.
MOSQUEDAThe process changed quite a bit. Instead of a payroll tax, Amazon wanted a head tax or an hours tax. Instead of in perpetuity, folks asked for a five year limitation. They wanted an oversight board and then the ultimate decision was how much money could we bring in? You know, I was part of the group that was advocating for $75 million per year. We thought that that was a drop in the bucket. Frankly, it's half of what the Chamber's own analysis said that we needed in the city of Seattle. And by the end we did get buyoff from Amazon to tax at $275 per head for five years.
NNAMDIThen what happened? By June the Council voted to repeal that tax. Reporting suggested it was due to pressure from Amazon. What happened?
MOSQUEDAAnd this is the lesson learned for our friends across the country and other cities. Make sure that you get your policy priorities in writing, because when Amazon said to us, we are good at $275. That was Sunday. That was Mother's Day. We voted on Monday. They funded the opposition on Tuesday. They did not call to say why. They did not explain their position changing. It was a hollow handshake at best. It was unfair negotiations, bad faith negotiations. Again, coming from labor, you expect people to keep their word and that's the same in business.
MOSQUEDASo my message is, of course, you can welcome good living wage jobs. Recognize that not everyone is going to have a six figure salary, though, that's coming there. Get those labor protections across the supply chain. Invest in housing and infrastructure, but recognize that what they may be promising you is something you need to get in writing in the contract, in the statute, what have you because that word cannot be trusted.
NNAMDIAn article in the Atlantic said that the no tax on jobs campaign pushing back against the so called head tax and which Amazon donated to, the signatures themselves were likely legitimate, but was there a concern that you and other Councilmembers had about Amazon's participation in that?
MOSQUEDAWell, you know, from my perspective as a policy maker, when a deal is made and the pen is put to paper and people agree to it, you believe you can move forward. You believe you can work on implementation. You believe that you can look at the horizon to see what's next. Again, this was a five year limited tax break. And I want to be very clear about something. This was never about one company. This was about corporations in our backyard who had been very prosperous with our infrastructure and our workforce.
MOSQUEDAWe just wanted to make sure that there was fair investment back into that same workforce and infrastructure. We were talking about companies that make more than $20 million a year in gross receipts only paying for a five year limited time period. And what's interesting to note is that Amazon's contribution of that was about $24 million a year. Over a five year period, that's about $120 million. Well interestingly the tax that the Trump break -- that Trump gave them as a tax break in 2018 -- the Trump tax break was 6.5 times the amount that they would have paid in the life of our tax here in Seattle.
MOSQUEDATrump's break could get them $789 million. Again, 6.5 times the amount they would have paid. So we really weren't asking for too much. This was not intended to be punitive. And I think as your good board member has noted, the legitimate concerns from the community are real. We need housing. We need infrastructure. And the reality in Seattle was we did not have the revenue to do so.
MOSQUEDASo the relationship that you ask about is one that I am hoping people will recognize. We need shared responsibility so we can have greater share of prosperity. This is not about being punitive. We want those good living wage jobs. We just want to make sure that everyone, who has a job in Seattle also has a place to live.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Teresa Mosqueda. She is Seattle City Council Member. Are there other examples of times the Seattle City Council pushed back or tried to push back on Amazon, Teresa Mosqueda?
MOSQUEDAYou know, this is the most visible example of where we were really asking for our local corporate partners to play a role in taxation. One of the interesting issues that I think the folks in North Virginia are dealing with is how do we make sure that those jobs go to the folks who live there right now. I know that that's a concern. I've met with folks over there. They want to make sure that the folks who are living there have a place to call home in the future and that they're not going to get displaced.
MOSQUEDAWhat we saw in Seattle was a lot of displacement, because we did not build the housing fast enough. And that's on public policy makers as well to change our zoning, create additional housing. We needed that revenue to create some housing, but it needs to be housing across the board. Another example was we wanted to make sure that there was good living wage jobs for all workers who benefit from having a booming tech industry. I want there to be that booming industry, but I want the folks, who are the construction workers to get the good jobs like you're talking about in North Virginia.
MOSQUEDAI also want to make sure the security guards, the janitors, the folks who are delivery drivers, the warehouse workers, have good living wage jobs. We're still struggling to make sure that the sub sub subcontractor at Amazon security guards allow for there to be unionization. One big issue that I think we can take from New York is making sure that there's neutrality. If folks want to organize and I know it's tough across the nation, but we're seeing people step up and organize in nontraditional sectors.
MOSQUEDAMake sure that they say that they will be neutral on an organizing effort. That is so critical for some of these lower wage jobs that are tied to Amazon, security guards, janitors, delivery drivers, the warehouse workers who we just heard yesterday have higher rates of suicide. This is critical to make sure that an investment like the one they're planning or promising to make actually benefits the folks who live in that city. The last thing I'll say and I appreciate being on the air with the good board member is if jobs are being promised to the folks who live there now, get it in writing.
MOSQUEDAAnd he's correct, you know. You guys all have limitations that we, you know, fortunately don't have. But if you want local hire for your current workforce, if you want priority hire for women and people of color, if you want them to have those jobs in the six figure salary tax sector, then get it in that contract now. And if that doesn't materialize, create claw backs. Claw backs with interest, that's one of the things that we were considering when we were talking to Boeing out here years ago.
MOSQUEDAYou know, incentives can be a good thing if they truly benefit your local economy. But I think you all have an opportunity as the pen has not been put to paper yet to think about how you reap the benefit of that in your community. Again, I'll say revenue, revenue, revenue for investment and infrastructure and housing.
NNAMDIWe only have about a minute left with the City Council Member. Matt de Ferranti, any questions you would have for her?
FERRANTIWell, first I just want to thank her for her commitment to equity and labor and recognition that we have an opportunity that has some distinctions. And it may have some distinctions from the situation in Seattle. But I just also wanted to see if you had found in the last six months or eight months whether there had been opportunities, and there some areas that have been positive that you have been able to work through. For example, sustainability and climate change have been big issues, and I didn't know if you had any partnership or conversations on those issues with respect to --
MOSQUEDASpecifically with Amazon, no, I will say that there are some higher road employers that we've talking with. Folks who stepped up and said that they had cash reserve on hand and wanted to invest in building affordable housing throughout the region. One of the biggest issues that affects climate change and carbon emissions is the fact that people are being pushed out of our city precisely, because we don't have the revenue and the housing so people can live in the city, and that is a huge climate crisis for us when people have to commute two, three hours to get to work.
MOSQUEDAWe're the third largest mega commuter city in the entire country and that is precisely of one of the impacts they've had. So one of the things that Microsoft did, for example, is a loan, it's an impact investment loan to build middle income housing. They did that because they have additional cash reserves. But coupled with that is that they actually created a list of policy ideas that they worked with some of our regional cities on so that we could eliminate parking, expedite building, creating greater dense communities.
MOSQUEDASome of those issues are hot button issues as you know. I'm sure with some of our smaller cities. And they stepped up and did that. I haven't seen the same from the folks at Amazon. But, again, I would say this is an opportunity to get what you all want in the community and that's, you know, an actual benefit back from those tax dollars that are being given over back to your neighbors.
MOSQUEDAAnd I had a great opportunity to meet with folks in retail and construction out there, and I know that they really want to make sure that their local community benefits and it's not just folks moving in. Again, we have the fastest growing city in the nation because a lot of those jobs that have been created have been created by people moving into our city. We want those to be jobs for everyone who lives here.
NNAMDITeresa Mosqueda is a Seattle City Council Member. She joins us from studios at KUOW in Seattle, Washington. Thank you so much for joining us.
MOSQUEDAHey, thank you so much. And I look forward if you guys have a hearing like they did in New York, I look forward to watching it. I'm really excited to be on the air with you. And I applaud you for creating that dialogue with the community.
NNAMDIThank you. We'll continue our conversation about Amazon after a break. But first it's been a year since students hosted the March for Our Lives on the National Mall to protest gun violence and push for gun control. This year, a social justice group called MoCo Students for Change walked out of class today for reprise. Students are in front of the U.S. Capital now. Joining us now for an update is WAMU's Esther Ciammachilli. She's a host and reporter for WAMU 88.5. Esther, thank you for joining us.
ESTHER CIAMMACHILLIGreat to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIEsther, what is you estimate of how many students turned out today?
CIAMMACHILLIAt the onset there was -- I would say there were hundreds of students out here today. I tried to count. You just try to do a really rough count at first when they were all sitting listening to speeches. And I got to about 100 and I was about a third of the way through the crowd. And again that was a very rough estimate. But I would say there were hundreds of students from around the Washington region, not just Montgomery County, not just Maryland. But D.C., from Virginia and all of them gathered at Lafayette Square to observe a 17 minutes of silence to honor the fallen -- the people who were shot at the Parkland -- in Parkland, Florida at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year before making their way to the Capital.
NNAMDIWhat was that like, the 17 minutes of silence?
CIAMMACHILLIYou know, it was pretty powerful to see that many students kind of huddled all together sitting on the ground right in front of the White House. They were completely silent, but a lot of them had their signs in the air facing the White House. You know, saying, you know, my life is worth more than your gun and other phrases. And it was just really powerful to see. It was very similar to the nationwide walk out last year, which was also to protest gun violence. And before that march began, students, again, held a moment of silence, 19 minutes of silence, because it was on the anniversary of the Columbine shooting where 19 people were shot and killed.
NNAMDIToday's event was organized by a Montgomery County based group of students called MoCo Students for Change. We've talked with representatives from this group before, but remind us what are the origins of that group.
CIAMMACHILLISo it started last year actually right after the shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. There were students in Montgomery County who began a group calling themselves Montgomery County Students for Gun Control. And within the span of this last year, they decided to branch out and try to include other groups. So LGBTQ issues, reproductive rights issues, women's rights, etcetera, because they said that they wanted to be more inclusive and be more diverse. They are still very much a group that is pushing for stricter gun laws, which is why they are all out here today. But they have now changed their name to Montgomery County Students for Change. And that is because they wanted to include more groups within that group.
NNAMDIWho else have Montgomery County Students partnered with for today's event?
CIAMMACHILLISo they're, you know, I spoke to co-president, Michael Salomon, yesterday and he actually said that they haven't necessarily formally partnered with anyone. But there are several other student groups who are out here today in participation, in solidarity with Montgomery County Students for Change. There's a group called Pathways to Power, which is a group from Thurman Douglas Charter School here in D.C. There are several other student groups from Bethesda, Maryland and from Silver Spring. And all are out here in solidarity with the Montgomery County Students for Change.
NNAMDISo what's the main focus of this event? You mentioned a show of solidarity. Is it a protest, a rallying cry, a show of solidarity, or all of the above? Do today's students have certain demands?
CIAMMACHILLIThey actually -- they do have certain demands. But it is actually all of the above. They are here in solidarity with those students, who have lost their lives from Columbine to now. They are here in solidarity with anyone, who has been a victim of gun violence in the last, you know, 20 years or so in the United States. Their main demand today is they are asking Congress to pass a bill called the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. And it is a bill that would expand background checks to private gun sales and to gun show sales.
CIAMMACHILLIStudents are out here right now and they're demanding Congress to pass this bill. It has actually passed the House. And it did receive bipartisan support. Eight Republican representatives voted in favor of this bill to send it on to the Senate, but the bill does face an uphill challenge in the Republican controlled Senate.
NNAMDIAny members of Congress turn out for today's rally?
CIAMMACHILLIYes. Representative Ted Deutch, a Democrat from Florida, was out here. He gave a speech earlier to students. Just showing his solidarity as he stands with them and, of course, he remarked on how proud he was to see so many young people out here in support and being politically active. He did mention the turnover in the House during the last elections when Democrats took over control of the House. And he said that it had a lot to do with their predecessors. The high school seniors who were a part of the movement last year who graduated who turned 18 and who went on to vote.
NNAMDIEsther Ciammachilli is a host and reporter for WAMU 88.5 reporting live from a demonstration of area high school students at the U.S. Capital. Esther, thank you so much for joining us.
CIAMMACHILLIGreat to be with you, Kojo. Thank you.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll return to our conversation about Amazon. If you'd like to join that conversation give us a call 800-433-8850. Shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. Are you a resident worried about affordable housing with Amazon's arrival? What are your concerns? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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