Saturday, July 29, 2017

Amazon and Bezos

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos finally became the world’s richest man. Bezos’s reign as the world’s richest man did not last long. Amazon’s share price fell slightly by the end of Thursday, handing the title back to Bill Gates.

Nevertheless, he still holds the record for being one of the stingiest multi-billionaires.

The company’s treatment of its low-level warehouse employees has long been notorious. Stockers and packers often work 11-hour shifts and walk up to 20 miles a day. They are given forced overtime and left unpaid for required tasks. There is intensive surveillance, even of bathroom breaks, and weaker workers whose productivity lags are summarily fired.

The company is constantly “letting people know that you’re being watched”, giving ominous warnings about the swift termination that follows any attempt to steal from the warehouse. And after losing a case that went to the US Supreme Court, workers remain unpaid for the portion of their days spent standing in line for mandatory security screenings.

For several years, Gawker compiled testimonies from people who had spent time in Amazon warehouses. The quotes were depressing: “I have never felt more disposable or meaningless than I do at Amazon,” said one worker. “They do not care if you keel over on the line,” reported another, who claimed to have observed multiple people pass out during their shifts. (Indeed, at an Amazon warehouse back in 2011, so many people were collapsing in the summer heat that the company hired ambulances to sit outside and wait for workers to drop.) In December, Amazon warehouse workers in Scotland were being paid so little that they were sleeping in tents to save money

Conditions have been little better for the company’s white-collar workers. A 2015 New York Times investigation found that Amazon’s corporate headquarters was a brutal place to work. Employees were intentionally pressed to their absolute physical limits, in a culture of ruthless competition and unreasonable demands for self-sacrifice. There was little sense of work-life balance, and workers are subject to intensive psychological pressure, “toiling long and late” being “castigated for their shortcomings”. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk,” one employee said.

 Former and Current Employees of Amazon (Face) formed in order to push the company for reform and attempt to form a union explained “Amazon is still Amazon”, and “people are still pushed to their limits”. Amazon has fiercely opposed every effort at unionization among its employees. There is “intense pressure from managers” who hand out anti-union material, and the company has been accused of creating a climate of “fear” among those who attempt to organize, hinting that their work can easily be shipped elsewhere. The company had “crushed” labor organizing, and since then efforts have largely stalled. The way to ensure that workers aren’t exploited or mistreated is to make sure they are well represented in their negotiations with management. Opposing unionization means depriving workers of the power to bargain on terms of equality, and until Bezos softens Amazon’s anti-union stance, it’s impossible to believe that he truly cares about the interests of the nearly 350,000 people who work for him.

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