By SJWPC Board, September 12, 2018
South Jersey Women for Progressive Change is appalled by recent racist and classist comments made by executives at EMR and Holtec, and particularly by Congressman Donald Norcross.
Norcross was instrumental in encouraging businesses to relocate to Camden in exchange for massive tax breaks, working with the administration of former Governor Christie to grant Holtec $260 million in tax credits. Ostensibly, Holtec is supposed to create jobs and economic benefit for Camden residents in return.
Yet this is how Holtec CEO Krishna Singh speaks of his employees who reside in Camden: “They don’t show up to work,” he said. “They can’t stand getting up in the morning and coming to work every single day. They haven’t done it, and they didn’t see their parents do it. Of course, some of them get into drugs and things. So, it’s difficult.”
Rather than defend his community and his constituents, Norcross sided with the CEO, going so far as to compare Camden constituents, whom he is elected to represent, to children: “When you stop to think about it, I say children are that one asset that you can’t blame them for anything,” he said. “Same thing goes for people who have not had a structure that taught them.” This is an offensively paternalistic attitude, and it is incredibly disappointing to see an elected official siding with big business at the expense of the community he represents.
We wish that Norcross had instead attempted to hold these companies accountable for investing in the community, which is what they were supposed to do in exchange for the quarter-billion dollar tax breaks they received. It is unclear how effectively or thoughtfully Holtec is investing in the communities and its employees. Is there a comprehensive training program? Is there assistance with reliable transportation for employees? Is affordable child care offered? How many employees has Holtec fired and for what reasons? How diverse is the Union? These are all questions that should be answered before assuming the community is to blame.
All too often what gets lost in this conversation are the voices of the employees and residents themselves. Did Norcross speak to any employees to verify Singh’s claims, or did he merely take the CEO’s word for it? Has Singh or Norcross or anyone else asked employees to share their experiences and their side of the story? Viewing people of color as faceless and voiceless resources to be exploited is an example of systemic racism- and we expect our elected officials (and the companies they invite in) to be better than this.
Singh made it quite clear how he feels about investing in Camden in and its residents- that is to say he has absolutely no intention of doing so at all. In fact, Holtec is doing its best to not have to hire any Camden residents at all. Singh explained, “We’re trying to automate a lot of processes, so it doesn’t rely on human skill, as it has in the past. Automation is definitely modifying worker needs. The high-skilled work that required people to learn and spend tens of thousands of hours to get good, that work can be done by machines. Which is the good news — because we don’t have such workers. This plant would be crippled if we relied on workers.”
Massive tax breaks like these rely on a very problematic “trickle down” theory of economic development. It is clear that businesses benefit financially from these tax breaks, and it is less clear that the community does. Another example is American Water, which moved just 10 miles from Voorhees to Camden in exchange for $164 million in tax credits. For this, American Water committed to hire a mere 10% of its construction workforce (which is inherently temporary employment) from Camden residents. Taxpayers are paying private corporations millions of dollars in exchange for extremely vague promises.
It is disappointing, but not particularly surprising, to see CEOs who care more about profit than community. But what is absolutely shocking is for government and elected officials to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at these corporations in exchange for so little. If the ultimate goal is automation, then how are these companies helping Camden at all? If our Congressman is not holding them accountable to the residents of the City, then who is?
If you are a Camden resident and employee or former employee of Holtec, EMR, American Water, Subaru, Conner Strong and Buckelew, or any other large currently Camden located or Camden-bound corporation, SJWPC would love to hear from you. Please send us a message via our Facebook page or contact us on Twitter. This story is far from over.