Bernie Vs. Bezos
Amazon is now a $1 trillion company.
It got there by creating an entire tech ecosystem and cementing its place as a benchmark of American consumerism.
But soon after the announcement of its new height, Amazon came under fire for the methods it employs to create such incredible profit margins.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a video calling for special tax programs for Amazon and other mega-companies, such as Walmart. As a reason for his proposal, Sanders cited massive inequality between the higher-ups at Amazon and the workers who occupy the company's fulfillment centers.
The name "fulfillment center" is a sort of clean, 1984-style euphemism for the massive warehouses where thousands of workers fold, pack, and distribute millions of Amazon packages every day.
In the video, Sanders states:
Mr. Bezos continues to pay many thousands of his Amazon employees wages that are so low that they are forced to depend on taxpayer-funded programs, such as food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized housing in order to survive.
He later tweeted:
Bottom line: No one working for the wealthiest person on Earth should have to rely on food stamps. No one working for a man who earns $260 million a day should be forced to sleep in their car. Yet that is what's happening at Amazon.
Jeff Bezos isn't only the richest man alive; he's also the richest man in recorded history. But Bezos has probably never folded a single box in one of those fulfillment centers.
Now, the legislation that Sanders is proposing intends to adjust the taxes of large companies so they'll be equal to the value of the government benefits that their workers receive.
He claims that if companies like Amazon were to pay all their employees a living wage of $15 an hour, akin to the fast-food reform in Massachusetts, it would save America's taxpayers roughly $150 billion a year on government programs.
In his video, Sanders mentions that the median income for Amazon workers is $28,446. This is below both the industry standard and the newly established $15 living wage.
Amazon was quick to fire back in a post on Day One, the official Amazon blog. The first line reads: "Senator Sanders continues to make inaccurate and misleading accusations against Amazon."
The blog post, written by an anonymous staffer, goes on to assert that Sanders' figures for the programs and wages at Amazon were severely skewed:
Sen. Sanders claims that Amazon's median U.S. salary is $28,446, despite the fact that we've made [it] clear that this number is global and includes part-time employees. In fact, the median U.S. salary for full-time Amazon employees is $34,123.
The blog paints a rosy picture of life at Amazon. It mentions the myriad of benefits from the company's education program, Career Choice, and the 130,000 jobs that Amazon created last year.
The anonymous blogger also mentions that Sanders has been invited to tour one of Amazon's fulfillment centers but has yet to take the company up on its offer.
It's kind of hard to know whom to trust here. On one hand, massive corporations like Amazon, Apple, and Walmart aren't exactly known for how well they treat their lower-level factory workers.
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The blog makes it seems like the company performs a lot of outreach. But I'm skeptical, especially since the shareholder letter that Bezos wrote in 1999 went public. You know, the letter where he says fear is the greatest motivator for his employees? "I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up every morning terrified."
But on the other hand, Sanders is a radical. The promises he makes on the campaign trails are reminiscent of that kid who ran for class president in grade school — the one who promised extra recess and chocolate milk from the water fountains. The equality of socialism sounds nice on paper. But we've seen how brutally that reality can play out.
I hung out with my fair share of Birkenstock-ed, hemp-wearing Bernie Bros when I lived in Vermont. But I've also had plenty of beers with the cutthroat finance guys, the ones who fetishize capitalism and dream of strutting around a Wall Street office.
And what those two radically different bros have in common is that when they get going on their respective ideologies, they just suck to talk to.
That's why I sort of fall somewhere in the middle on this one.
Do you think a company gets to be worth $1 trillion without having any shady business practices? Absolutely not! But are the fulfillment centers hellholes and is Amazon making its workers depend on food stamps to survive? Also no.
Like many conflicts, the truth of this showdown lies somewhere between two extremes.
I'll let you decide whom to believe...
Contributing Editor, Park Avenue Digest