Bernie Sanders Helped Organized Labor Shame Jeff Bezos Into Raising Amazon’s Minimum WagePhoto by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Politics Features Amazon
This is a nice reprieve from the drudgery of the news cycle. Here is a quick two act play that serves as unimpeachable proof that politicians can influence billionaires’ actions through constant shaming.
Act one: the shaming.
Jeff Bezos is the wealthiest person in the world. It is not enough for him to offer 25 cents-an-hour wage increases to employees making grossly inadequate wages.
There is no reason why Bezos and Amazon cannot pay workers $15 an hour plus decent benefits. https://t.co/wxt0KKdJeF
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 25, 2018
While Jeff Bezos spends $12 million renovating his 5th mansion, this Amazon employee is forced to live out of her car. pic.twitter.com/NiqNonGPOU
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) August 3, 2018
The median Amazon employee makes $13.67 an hour.
Many of those employees rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing to survive.
You know who pays for that? You do.
You know what Jeff Bezos makes every hour? $10,833,33
It’s time for Amazon to get off corporate welfare.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) August 30, 2018
“The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel.” -Jeff Bezos, worth $147 billion
Mr. Bezos, here’s another idea. Pay your workers enough so that thousands of them no longer have to rely on food stamps.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) July 12, 2018
I stand with the Amazon workers fighting for decent working conditions and a living wage on #PrimeDay.
While Jeff Bezos’ wealth increases by $275 million a day, Amazon workers are afraid to take bathroom breaks at work and are grossly underpaid. https://t.co/FRg0qz5ca9
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) July 16, 2018
This is what oligarchy looks like. This is what greed is doing to our country.
Amazon (whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, is the richest person in the world) used its enormous power to kill a modest tax designed to address the affordable housing crisis in Seattle.https://t.co/n0esx7VlsJ
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 13, 2018
Act two: Bezos finally caves.
Thank you @SenSanders. We’re excited about this, and also hope others will join in. https://t.co/kasWkkOhWo
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) October 2, 2018
Effective Nov. 1, Amazon will raise its minimum wage for all U.S. workers to $15 an hour. It includes all subsidiaries like Whole Foods, and will cover 250,000 employees and 100,000 seasonal employees, according to Amazon. This comes on the heels of attempts by Whole Foods workers to unionize, so giving Senator Sanders all the credit does a disservice to the work those laborers did before Bezos finally caved.
Who To Thank For The Amazon Wage Hike:
1. Workers who organized.
2. Workers who organized.
3. Workers who organized.
10. Politicians who applied pressure before it was popular.
982: Politicians who applied pressure once it was popular.
477,429,199: …still not Bezos.
— Shaun Scott (@eyesonthestorm) October 2, 2018
This is a victory for collective shaming. Bezos practically said so when announcing the new policy.
“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead.”
This is but one small step that Bezos must take if he really wants to lead. It’s not just the low pay that makes Amazon a miserable place to work for many lower-paid workers, but the overall conditions where laborers are practically treated like cattle. Here is but one example of how extreme Amazon’s warehouse conditions are, per Allentown, PA’s local paper, The Morning Call:
He got light-headed, he said, and his legs cramped, symptoms he never experienced in previous warehouse jobs. One hot day, [Elmer] Goris said, he saw a co-worker pass out at the water fountain. On other hot days, he saw paramedics bring people out of the warehouse in wheelchairs and on stretchers.
“I never felt like passing out in a warehouse and I never felt treated like a piece of crap in any other warehouse but this one,” Goris said. “They can do that because there aren’t any jobs in the area.”
Goris’ complaints are not unique.
Over the past two months, The Morning Call interviewed 20 current and former warehouse workers who showed pay stubs, tax forms or other proof of employment. They offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it’s like to work in the Amazon warehouse, where temperatures soar on hot summer days, production rates are difficult to achieve and the permanent jobs sought by many temporary workers hired by an outside agency are tough to get.
The defining battle of our time (and, well, almost all times in human history) is labor versus capital. This is a big symbolic victory for labor over the man with more capital than anyone alive, but it is a small victory in the larger war against Bezos’ ilk. Portraying this as “leadership” on Amazon’s part instead of finally paying a good chunk of its workers what they’re worth does a disservice to that struggle, as it took a lot of cajoling and shaming to get the world’s richest man to give up an infinitesimal sliver of his wealth. There is much more that must be addressed in our inherently unequal economic system, and shaming Jeff Bezos into actually doing something is a good way to communicate to the rest of America’s oligarchs that they’re all officially on notice.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.