Teamsters Help Community Save Park From Being Turned Into an Amazon Warehouse

"We stood up and we said, ‘No, we’ll fight back.’ And we did.”
cleveland park protest
Image Credit: Teamsters/Long Island Progressive Coalition

For about 7,000 kids in Freeport, Long Island, Cleveland Avenue Field is the only green space around. Spanning about nine acres, it serves as an athletic field for the local school district and a public gathering spot. It’s been empty for over 20 years, and it lets neighboring residents get sunlight, fresh air, and exercise. 


But in July, Freeport tried to sell the land to develop a last-mile delivery warehouse. Freeport mayor Robert Kennedy promised jobs and economic development, as well as the renovation of a park further downtown, but residents say that’s not what they want. And now, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is involved. 

“The union members are the community members, and the union and community have to work together,” said Dave Carew, a UPS driver with Teamsters Local 804. “What we know about a fight, we’re going to make sure everybody knows.”

Freeport residents who oppose the warehouse, as well as the Teamsters, said they suspect the warehouse was for Amazon—and in the beginning, it was. In the town’s initial records of the sale, one Freeport resident’s testimony reads, “The sale and use of the property for the new Amazon warehouse on the Cleveland Street property would provide an estimated annual tax revenue of around $700,000.” It continues, “The new Amazon facility would also provide an estimated 300+ jobs for the area which is sorely needed.” 

“They took this land from the people and sold it to a developer, and first they had Amazon in as the developer,” Carew explained. “They wanted to sell, I believe, for $39 million to Amazon, and then everybody kind of got wind that it was going to be an Amazon facility. So then they brought in this other group called the Panattoni Group. They build warehouses as what’s called ‘on spec’—there’s no real end user on it. They’ll lease it to whomever. They came in with an offer $10 million higher than Amazon did.”


The Panattoni Group did not respond to a request for comment.

“We decided not to pursue the site in Cleveland Park almost a year ago,” An Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard. “As we’ve shared before, Amazon is a dynamic business and we weigh a variety of factors when deciding where to develop future sites or maintain a presence to best serve our partners and customers. We’re always making adjustments to our network to best fit our business needs and improve the experience for our employees, partners, drivers, and customers.”

Town hall meetings started during the summer, discussing the rezoning of the park to an industrial site. By the end of July, the mayor and trustees had voted to sell the park for $49 million to PDC Northeast LPIV, LLC, a Delaware corporation controlled by the Panattoni Group. They allotted $10 million to reduce resident property taxes and the remaining $39 million would go to Freeport’s reserves. 

Residents said the sale was done hastily and improperly. “There were no community meetings, which are required by state law—or if there were, the public was not properly notified,” said Kiana Abbady, a community leader with the Long Island Progressive Coalition, in a phone call with Motherboard. “We came together, we went to all the town halls, and we demanded that the Mayor listen to us. But he actually proceeded with the sale of the property.”


Abady was already doing intense community organizing when the Teamsters got involved to support her cause. “We were organized to make enough noise on our own that they noticed us,” she said. “It’s great! Being an aggressive organizer is very hard and it’s all volunteer work. They were able to help fund some of our efforts and share around the community.” 

Together, they asked New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the legality of the sale—and James filed a lawsuit temporarily blocking it in August. 

The development was initially planned as a last-mile Amazon warehouse, according to town records. Many residents in the community were unhappy with that. Last-mile warehouses are dangerous in residential communities, or industrial zones next to residential communities. 

“It erodes the quality of life,” said Demos Demopoulos, the Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Joint Council 16. “Congestion, pollution—they live out in the suburbs because they want to get away from the congestion and the rushing around. That’s all going away.”

Antoine Andrews, a second UPS driver with Local 804, said, “The traffic, as it is, puts our kids at  risk. Most residents in these areas complain about the safety of their children and the safety of themselves. It would take away from the wildlife, and the fresh air in these areas—it’s just going to be gone.”


Other union members were concerned that the development was happening in a predominantly minority community. “Why does this have to be in a Black and brown community?” said Anthony Rosario, a UPS driver with Local 804. “It’s been said that they have plenty of warehouse space in industrial areas to use, but it’s literally one of the last greenspaces in Freeport.” 

cleveland park

Cleveland Park. Image Credit: Kiana Abady

Motherboard has previously reported on efforts by the Teamsters around the country to protest new Amazon warehouses and tax breaks for the company, saying that it’s eroding working conditions and generally destructive to communities. Particularly on Long Island, the Teamsters have successfully stopped Amazon warehousing developments in Westbury and Islip, and pushed back against tax breaks for a warehouse in Syosset.

But Teamsters say the Long Island problem is still growing. “The exponential growth of Amazon’s warehousing, it’s ridiculous,” Carew said. “In 2016, there wasn’t one Amazon warehouse on Long Island. Right now there’s 12. That’s a model all across the country.”


Members were also adamant that any jobs promised by Amazon when it builds a new facility are unreliable and dangerous. 

“They're going to increase jobs at a 150 percent turnover rate,” Carew said. “Think about that. They're promising X amount of jobs, but traditional Amazon warehousing has a 150 percent turnover rate. That's astounding. And then you're going to get fired because you're not working fast enough. I get paid $41.52 an hour—at Amazon, a person gets paid $17 an hour. Is that a good job? I get benefits. I get a pension. Amazon is not going to give them that at all.” Motherboard has previously extensively reported on the conditions at Amazon’s warehouses. 

Andrews echoed Carew’s concerns. “These are bad jobs that would potentially be created,” he said. “Amazon workers are not being trained properly. I am a UPS driver myself, and Amazon workers, we all do the same thing. They’re getting half of what we’re getting as UPS workers. It’s unfair and unjust. It’s about equality.”

Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy promised in July that a new facility would bring an additional 320 jobs to the village population of around 44,000 people. But some Teamsters members say it’s unlikely those jobs would go to Freeport workers. They pointed to the warehouse in Syosset whose tax breaks they protested last year—Amazon was getting tax breaks to be able to hire new workers, they said, but had only been relocating workers from a warehouse that closed down less than 10 miles away. 


“We found out that Amazon, in other areas of Long Island, wasn’t holding up its end of the deal,” Abady said. “Why would it for Freeport? What makes us so special?”

Community opposition—with Teamster support—has been vehement over the past several months, and has even reached Gov. Hochul’s desk. A bill proposed to the State Senate would allow Freeport to alienate the land of Cleveland Ave Park, meaning the school district that uses it as an athletic field would no longer have any jurisdiction. That would make the sale and potential development of the land much easier. The bill has passed both the Senate and the Assembly, and is waiting on Gov. Hochul’s signature. But the organizers are hoping for a veto. 

“We all had a meeting with Kathy Hochul’s staff,” Rosario said, referring to the proposed bill. “We had a long conversation about why this is important to us, to labor, and to communities. What we got is that she would wait until after the election to do anything.” 

The fate of Cleveland Ave Park is now entirely in Gov. Hochul’s hands, union members say. But they’ve continued to rally in support of the communities around the park. 

“This is one of those governments that thinks the community can’t speak for itself, and can’t fight for itself,” Abady said, referring to the Freeport Village government. “But we stood up and we said, ‘No, we’ll fight back.’ And we did.”