Unions, Civic Groups Scrutinize Amazon’s Proposed Showplace Square Development Site

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Last month, roughly 60 members of the San Francisco Southeast Alliance (SFSEA) gathered at Thee Parkside to discuss Amazon’s operations and proposal to develop 900 Seventh Street. It was SFSEA’s, also known as the SF Southeast Community Coalition, first in-person gathering in six months. 

SFSEA is a group of nonprofits, neighborhood associations, business organizations, environmental groups, local advisory committees, and labor unions that collaborate on economic and equity issues facing Southside neighborhoods. Representatives from San Francisco Transit Riders, Friends of Jackson Park, Young Community Developers, Mission Bay Citizen Advisory Committee, and Economic Development on Third attended, as did state assembly race rivals District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney and San Francisco’s Democratic Party Chair David Campos.

“The intent of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan was to maintain Production Distribution and Repair uses in areas where they historically existed,” said J.R. Eppler, president of the Boosters, whose members are Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, and Showplace Square residents. “Amazon’s distribution centers are more intensive than the uses contemplated when the plan was crafted. The 900 Seventh Street site in particular is in a complicated location. The City grid is truncated there.” 

The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which focuses on South-of-Market, Mission, Showplace Square, Potrero Hill, and the Central Waterfront, was adopted in 2009. It calls for developing half of the area’s former industrial properties into housing. The other half is reserved for Production Distribution and Repair (PDR), such as warehouses, distribution centers, and light industrial activities. The Plan encouraged the creation of “complete neighborhoods,” with shopping, services, affordable housing, and open space. Hill residents have long been concerned that the Plan doesn’t contain effective mechanisms to ensure establishment of open space and mixed-use development. 

Amazon wants to construct a 650,000 square foot building, including roughly 17,400 square feet of office space, with parking on its fourth level. 

Jim Araby, director of strategic campaigns for United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 5, based in Hayward, led the meeting. UFCW represents supermarket stockers, retail clerks, food processors, financial professionals, and cannabis cultivators. 

“Representatives of SEIU Local 87, Teamsters Local 2785, Operating Engineers Local 3, UCFW Local 5, and UFCW Local 648, which is based in the City, came to the meeting. As a coalition, we’re interested in seeing Amazon allow unions to organize their employees. We’re committed to workers’ rights and guaranteeing District 10 residents a chance for equitable jobs and training,” said Araby.

“The Teamsters is a transport union with 1.4 million members nationwide,” said Doug Bloch, Teamsters Joint Council 7’s political director. “UPS is the largest employer of Teamsters members. Amazon is UPS’s biggest customer. One of the primary things we’re concerned about is that drivers that contract with Amazon get paid roughly $21 an hour. That’s about half of what our members make. That doesn’t account for excellent health care and a pension. We’re frustrated that Amazon is undercutting people in this line of work.” 

“Now there’s so much delivery, there’s enough work for everyone,” said Joe Cilia, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 2785. “But it’s worrisome that deliveries in the Financial District dropped significantly. Deliveries to residential areas have grown. We now have to deliver 100 boxes to 100 different homes rather than 100 boxes to one corporate office. This means putting more wheels on the road. Amazon is cherry-picking, taking the smaller orders near their distribution centers. They are leaving the harder deliveries, the ones with heavier packages to more remote areas, to UPS. As a result, UPS has to spend more on fuel and “windshield time,” or time for a driver to be behind the wheel.”  

“Right now, my understanding from talking to Amazon employees and individuals contracting for Amazon is they’re always running,” said Oscar Araujo, shop steward for Teamsters Local 2785. “They don’t have time to spend with their children or their families. They’re exhausted and unhappy.”