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Will the new AmplifyGR Director of Economic Opportunities assist residents to create unions or a Community Benefits Agreement?

February 24, 2020

Last week, the DeVos-created and DeVos-funded organization AmplifyGR, announced that they hired a new staff person, someone who will, according to Facebook page, further build a business community that is reflective of the neighborhoods we serve.”

Danielle M. Williams was hired by AmplifyGR to be the new Director of Economic Opportunities. According to the AmplifyGR website:

“With the addition of Danielle to our team, Amplify GR is poised to continue connecting entrepreneurs with the resources needed to build their businesses,” said Jon Ippel, executive director for Amplify GR. “Danielle’s expertise will be an asset in strengthening economic pathways for neighbors, as she has been an integral player in large corporate teams, nonprofit structures and local municipal work. Her experience working in these environments is valuable to our partnerships with businesses and community entrepreneurs.”

Williams started her own consulting agency in 2017, DMWilliams Consulting, LLC. Based on the information from the consulting firm website, the new AmplifyGR employee has most of her experience working with the business community.

The AmplifyGR website also says of the new position that Danielle Williams will have, stating:

As Director of Economic Opportunities, Williams will identify and help activate business ownership and employment opportunities for neighbors.  Williams will work with employers to ensure their business practices align with the organization’s employment goals including:

  • Employing neighborhood talent
  • $15 per hour wage with benefits
  • Career advancement opportunities
  • Felon-friendly hiring

Each of these four things sound good on paper, but how will they translate into reality? How will this new position be able to leverage what workers will based on the four things listed above?

This new position, along with all of the other AmplifyGR staff job descriptions is very focused on creating businesses and entrepreneurs. This of course is not surprising, since this is exactly what the DeVos family was founded on with the Amway corporation.

The best way to leverage employee power is to form a labor union. Labor unions have 150 years of experience in working to get better wages, benefits and to create workplace democracy. If workers from the neighborhood are hired, what guarantees will they have that the businesses that will be partnering with AmplifyGR will hire ex-felons, provide a minimum $15 an hour wage or employment advancement opportunities? Michigan is an employment at will state. This means that an employer may generally terminate an employment relationship at any time and for any reason, unless a law or agreement provides otherwise. If people were unionized, then they would have more power to fight against termination of employees.

However, it is not likely that a DeVos-created and DeVos-funded entity such as AmplifyGR would help residents of the Boston Square Neighborhood to be part of a union. We can conclude this, since the DeVos family has a long history of opposing labor unions of any kind. In addition to opposing labor unions, the DeVos family was instrumental in passing a Right to Work law in Michigan in 2012, pushing to eliminate public education teacher pensions and working to fight against public sector employee benefits throughout the state. The DeVos family does this by financing candidates which share the same contempt for unions as the DeVos family does and by also crafting anti-union policies through organizations like the West Michigan Policy Forum.

Unions would also be extremely beneficial to those who live in the southeast part of Grand Rapids, where AmplifyGR operates, in terms of housing. A tenant union would be a powerful tool to fight against predatory landlords and property management companies, which are not being challenged anywhere in the city of Grand Rapids.

Some of these ideas were suggested during the 2017 town hall forums that AmplifyGR hosted, along with a whole other host of ideas, like Community Land Trusts and a Community Benefits Agreement (CBE). A Community Benefits Agreement fits in with neighborhood control, which could include the four areas that AmplifyGR says their new staff person would try to implement. In fact, a CBE agreement could include many more demands and it is something that should be pursued for the future viability of the neighborhood. Before any development happens, residents could demand a Community Benefits Agreement before agreeing to what it is that AmplifyGR has proposed to do in the Boston Square Neighborhood.

Based on the 3 community meetings that AmplifyGR held in 2019, centered around their 9-acre development proposal, there are just 2 references to jobs in their 27 page document. Those two references to jobs were, jobs in the neighborhood and “good paying jobs.” Neither of these references expanded to what local jobs or good paying jobs meant, which is exactly what a Community Benefits Agreement could do for those who live in the Boston Square Neighborhood. 

The City of Grand Rapids has yet to make a decision on the AmplifyGR proposal and before they do make a decision there will likely be a public hearing on the matter. Pushing for a Community Benefits Agreement is still possible. A community Benefits Agreement could provide the kind of long-term leverage that residents of that neighborhood will need, especially when faced with the deep pockets of the DeVos family.

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