What better way to celebrate this season of giving and receiving than a shout out to our “friends” at Amazon? After all, one-half of all the stuff Americans buy (that’s the giving part of the equation) go into the coffers of Amazon (that’s the receiving part). And the bean counters at Amazon have even bigger plans in the money-making department for the 2019 holiday season. Here’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos licking his greedy chops at the prospect of adding to his already obscene wealth— “We are ramping up to make our 25th holiday season the best ever for Prime customers (translation: the best ever for me)—with millions of products available for free one-day delivery…”
He ain’t kidding! According to SJ Consulting Group, a parcel industry research firm, Amazon will ship 275 million packages during the 2019 peak holiday season, double last year’s number. Who will do the mighty labor to get those packages out of Amazon’s warehouses (oops, in Amazon-speak, warehouses are fulfillment centers, sounds a lot more humane) and into the hands of eager consumers? In the U.S. 125,000 souls labor in the trenches at Amazon in de-humanizing, soul deadening jobs made even more so by the requirement that each employee wear surveillance equipment that monitors every second of their working lives including trips to the bathroom.
The Amazon “Experience” is many different things to many different people. For the bosses, including founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon is a conduit to vast riches. Bezos alone, even after giving one-quarter of his share of Amazon stock to the wife he deserted, is still the richest person on the planet. For the workers who toil in 12-hour shifts to package and send the 275 million articles Amazon will process this holiday season, holidays are another excuse for the bosses to crack the whip.
Max is an Amazon “picker” (collecting items customers order). To avoid being fired he must pick up 400 items each hour, giving him seven seconds per item. The tracking device he is forced to wear makes sure he keeps up. To avoid getting the dreaded ToT (time off task) points, he urinates in a bottle at his work station.
Twenty-four-year-old Hibaq M. has seen the hourly productivity quotas she must meet to keep her job rise every two to three months. Complicating her ability to achieve those quotas are gruesome working conditions: no air conditioning in summer and insufficient heat in winter.
In 2017, Amazon bought Whole Foods. Two years later, Vita a part time worker, along with 1,900 other workers, was stunned to learned that one of the richest companies in the world was cutting the health benefits of all WF part time workers. According to a Whole Foods spokesperson “The small percentage of part-time team members … who previously opted into medical benefits through Whole Foods Market’s healthcare plan will no longer be eligible to buy into medical coverage through the company.”
When questioned about the horrific working conditions in Amazon’s fulfillment centers the closest equivalent to Nazi labor camps, Amazon shills have a few stock responses —“The fact is that Amazon provides a safe, quality work environment in which associates are the heart and soul of the customer experience.” (Amazon press release) Responding to worker complaints amid gruesome tales of 12-hour shifts, never-ending surveillance to weed out slow performers, harsh disciplinary procedures for minor infractions, an Amazon spokesperson blustered “[worker protests] are small events” [that] “are not representative of the thousands of people who love working for Amazon, … who have great jobs, competitive pay, comprehensive benefits.”
Amazon’s claims are belied by cold, hard evidence. A November, 2019 investigation by The Atlantic and Reveal Magazines using the internal records of 23 of Amazon’s 110 fulfillment centers across the U.S. documented that the rate of serious injuries in these facilities was more than double the national average for the warehouse industry: 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time workers in 2018, compared with the industry average of 4. A group of community organizations in New York added fuel to what was becoming a raging inferno of verifiable claims that working for Amazon could and did cost employees their lives. They got hold of data from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the federal watchdog agency overseeing health conditions in the workplace, that pegged the rate of illness and injury at the Staten Island, New York Amazon warehouse three times higher than the overall rate for all warehouse workers. Amazon’s response to these findings was to stonewall —“It’s inaccurate to say that Amazon fulfillment centers are unsafe and efforts to paint our workplace as such based solely on a snapshot of injury recordings is misleading given the size of our workforce.” Amazon’s defense of working conditions that threaten the bodies and spirits of their workforce boils down to this little ditty —We have too many workers to expect us to keep all of them alive and injury-free.
Unfortunately for Amazon, the former top banana at OSHA, Dave Michaels, flat-out disagrees —“According to Amazon’s own records, the risk of work injuries at fulfillment centers is alarmingly, unacceptably high. Amazon needs to take a hard look at the facilities where so many workers are being hurt and either redesign the work processes, replace the top managers, or both, because serious injury rates this high should not be acceptable to any employer.”
Need we add that Amazon doesn’t just ignore deplorable conditions at their fulfillment centers, it actively works to hide the fallout. According to three former safety managers, Amazon official policy on employee injuries is to deny they exist. Another former safety specialist was ordered by his bosses to come up with rationales for not recording injuries, a violation of federal labor law.
Could it get any worse? The third largest corporation in the world right behind Apple (valued at $961 billion) and Microsoft ($947 billion), Amazon is an economic powerhouse valued at $916 billion. In 2017, it recorded $5.6 billion in profits; by 2018 it had doubled that to $11.2 billion. In the third quarter of 2019 alone, its net revenue was up 24% over the same time in 2018 to $70 billion.
In order to achieve these results Amazon has come up with a business model that exploits workers with low pay and prison camp working conditions. According to one report, Amazon has experienced— “six worker deaths in six months, 13 deaths since 2013 [and] reports of a high incidence of suicide attempts.” (National Council for Occupational Safety and Health). “High incidence of suicide attempts.” Sound familiar? Oh yes, Foxconn, a Chinese company contracted to manufacture Apple I-phones, roared into the news as twenty or more of its workers attempted suicide. Flying under the radar was Foxconn’s contractual arrangements with a bevy of U.S. transnational corporations including, you guessed it, Amazon. It’s one thing to shake our collective heads over miserable conditions in far-off China, but how to explain away the same exploitative working conditions in the exceptional nation at Amazon warehouses?
How bad are the working conditions at Amazon’s U.S. facilities? “For some, unspeakable —“For every $1 in wages paid by Amazon, warehouse workers [in Southern California] receive an estimated 24¢ in public assistance benefits…57% of Amazon warehouse workers live in housing that is overcrowded and substandard. There is direct…evidence of significant homelessness among warehouse workers.” (Economic Roundtable)
On October 25, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s owner, regained his position as the richest person in the world after briefly losing it on October 24 to Microsoft’s Bill Gates. With a personal fortune of well over $100 billion, his continuing greed is unfathomable to mere mortals. He’s not the only piggy in the capitalist barnyard. All the Lords of Capital maintain the same master/slave relationship between themselves and their workers. Begging the question of how the U.S., a country that bleats its fidelity to “a perfect union [that] promotes the general welfare and secures the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity (Preamble U.S. Constitution), can countenance the savage treatment of working Americans in servitude to the never-ending greed of corporate America. Who will speak up for those who “don’t have an expectation of being treated like human beings [for whom] it’s become normalized to be treated like garbage at work. (Emily Guendelsberger, ex-Amazon employee who was expected to work a 12-hour shift walking an average of 15-20 miles per shift) Who will listen?
P.S. Last year SA took on Bezos along with fellow Lords of Capital at Walmart and Whole Foods (shortly before Bezos gobbled WF up and dumped it into his Amazon empire), You’ll find all the dirty details in Clash of the Titans. For an even more in-depth look at the swinish behavior of this fat cat check out Bezos Sticks It to Amazon Employees.
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