Amazon said it has “cultivated” a Southern California city mayor by donating PPE to the city and taking him and his team on tours in a confidential company document leaked on Tuesday.
The document, which is undated but refers to 2024 plans, also describes the company’s intent to combat legislation that would harm its interests by courting non-profit groups in California. The company said “Warehouse Moratorium Legislation” in the state—like AB 1000, which would prohibit companies from building large warehouses in residential and public areas—“would be detrimental to Amazon’s interests.”
The document, titled “Community Engagement Plan 2024,” was shared in screenshots on X by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a former California State Assemblymember and AFL-CIO leader, who described it as an “interesting read about how [Amazon] plan[s] to use $$ to non-profits in communities of color to fight legislation that limits environmental affects of warehouses & labor organizing.” Fletcher and the AFL-CIO did not respond to a request for comment.
The document states that Amazon is facing “significant reputational challenges in Southern California, where the company is perceived to build facilities in predominantly communities of color and poverty, negatively impacting their health.” The document then names City of Perris Mayor Michael Vargas, who Amazon refers to as “Perris Mayor Marty Vargas” in an apparent typo, as an “influential elected leader that we have cultivated through PPE donations to support the region, touring him and his team, and ongoing engagement.”
The city government of Perris posted a photo on Facebook of the mayor in an Amazon warehouse in 2021 with the caption, “Mayor Vargas and City staff welcome Amazon KRB4 to the City of Perris!”
“This post is a blatant mischaracterization of Amazon’s work, and in fact, Amazon is proud to be engaged philanthropically in communities across the country,” Amazon spokesperson Jennifer Flagg told Motherboard when reached for comment about Fletcher’s post on X and the document’s authenticity. “Partnerships with community leaders and stakeholders help guide how Amazon gives back. Through employee volunteerism or our charitable donations, it is always Amazon’s intention to help support the communities where we work in a way that is most responsive to the needs of that community.”
Puzzlingly, Amazon claimed in the document that Mayor Vargas “influences the governing body of KSBD,” which is a major Amazon air hub in the nearby city of San Bernardino where workers have threatened to strike over labor conditions.
In a statement to Motherboard, Mayor Vargas confirmed that Perris has received PPE donations from Amazon in the form of 600 COVID testing kits and six pallets of disinfectant wipes “as we did from several other businesses within the City,” but he “vehemently” opposed Amazon’s characterization that he has been “cultivated.”
“I vehemently oppose claims that I have been ‘cultivated’ by Amazon through PPE donations and have been courted as an influential governing member of KSBD, which is not in my jurisdiction,” Mayor Vargas wrote. “My relationship with Amazon is no different than any other business within the City, and in no way am I being used to influence legislation or provide preferential treatment to large scale businesses. We are one of several cities with Amazon fulfillment centers and this document aims to paint myself and the City of Perris as an example of a manipulated municipality for future development.”
“As a matter of fact,” he continued, “due to the land use restrictions imposed by March Air Reserve Base, buildings that currently host Amazon as a tenant were originally built ‘spec facilities’ and had been planned for low intensity warehouses for more than a decade and were not specific for Amazon. The City has no say so in who these buildings are leased to or operated by.”
In 2023, the document notes, Perris residents voted on a new warehouse tax to pay for road repairs that would be paid by companies such as Amazon. The measure failed, gaining over 50 percent of the vote but falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. Mayor Vargas supported the warehouse tax.
The document includes a section with the heading “Dogs Not Barking” that highlights potential issues for the company’s public policy plan. The section highlights the fact that “some elected leaders are now hesitant to accept directly Amazon’s political contributions.”
The same section also notes California Assembly bills limiting warehouse development. AB 1000, introduced in February, would ban the development of warehouses over 100,000 square feet if they are within 1,000 feet of any “sensitive receptor,” such as a residence, a school or daycare, a community center, an incarceration facility, or a public recreation field. Motherboard has previously reported an Amazon warehousing development project in a Long Island community’s only green space—the project was canceled after Teamsters aided community organizing.
To combat this bill, which “will continue to threaten the region’s economy, and Amazon’s interests,” the document stated that Amazon will “execute a detailed outreach strategy in each district to ensure strong relationships with key 3P partners, including San Bernardino Valley College Foundation, Children’s Fund, and Feeding America.” San Bernardino Valley College Foundation, Children’s Fund, and Feeding America did not immediately respond to requests for comment asking about their relationships with Amazon.
The document also mentions Amazon’s support for a California senate bill that would change advertising permissions for selling alcohol. Motherboard has previously reported on Amazon’s national lobbying efforts to “unlock” the liquor market during 2021.
The last point of the “Dogs Not Barking” section highlights the potential problem of the “new tactic” of labor organizing at Amazon’s delivery service partners. Earlier this year in Palmdale, CA, a group of Amazon delivery drivers became the first in its network to unionize with the Teamsters, and hosted numerous picket lines across the country for months after. Amazon argued that it was not responsible for their conditions, and that it therefore did not have to bargain with them.
“Our most import [sic] public policy priority in Southern California remains labor agitation that uses false narratives and incorrect information to affect public opinion and impact public policy,” the document states. “Pay continues to be a significant concern across the state…In 2023, the teamsters [sic] held a strike against Amazon with delivery drivers in Palmdale…While there was little media coverage, they will likely target more facilities in Southern California.”
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