What is Amazon really selling this Cyber Monday?
Anyone else a little skeptical of the Facebook ads bombarding us with messages about how committed they are to new regulations for the internet? Not sure how the NFIB ended up in my feed with the dire warnings about raising taxes. But what really takes the cake for me is the onslaught of social media and paid advertising Amazon is throwing at us extolling their virtues as a good employer. Now it’s a steady stream of ads with shiny happy people working in Amazon warehouses and taglines about $15 an hour, paid leave, safety and “we’ll keep trying harder”.
Amazon spends a lot on advertising (a little of that $10–11B would be enough to make these good jobs, no?). And they have ramped up a machine courting elected officials and managing their image (this one is worth a read; seriously, they call this “watering the flowers”). But do they think we are stupid? Or have such short memories? It’s pretty obviously a cynical attempt to fix their workplace problems with PR instead of, well, treating workers with respect and fixing the problems at work.
To be fair, the last year has been pretty much a PR disaster for Bezos and Amazon -and they were competing for stingiest employer before Covid. The Brookings Institute’s Molly Kinder documented that Amazon raked in billions during the pandemic and shared almost none of it with their workers. The revelations that one of the largest most prosperous employers was paying no taxes, and that Bezos one of the richest men on earth paying little to no taxes. (Hello: we would not have problem paying for paid leave in BBB if these companies and billionaires would just pay their fair share!) Workers in Bessemer organizing to form a union captured the nation’s attention with their David and Goliath story with Amazon having to defend its heavy handed anti-union tactics and then fumbling to respond to the revelation that workers were “peeing in bottles” because of the grueling pace of their shifts. The brave Amazon workers organizing with their union RWDSU testified before Congress and were cheered on by President Biden. Jessica Bruder’s incredible book Nomadland documenting the toll on older workers, desperate for income spending long hours on concrete floors in Orwellian warehouses working the seasonal shift came to life in Frances McDormand’s brilliant performance that swept the Academy Awards. Then came Alec MacGillis’ breathtaking economic history Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America documenting the people living and working in Amazon’s shadow and the civic unraveling as Amazon extracts value from workers and communities.
Next the in-depth expose in the tradition of Upton Sinclair by the New York Times documenting the brutal working conditions, the neglect of Amazon workers impacted by Covid and the ruthlessly efficient tactics deployed to control and silence employees raising concerns. Then Jeff Bezos took his joyride to outerspace cementing his oblivious Scrooge reputation and becoming the poster child for why we need the pass the PRO Act and giving workers a fair shot at organizing a union in the workplace. Amazon layered in their promised paid leave benefits to their $15 an hour ads as paid leave became increasingly popular only to be exposed again in the New York Times for devastating failures to honor their employees basic needs for leave. California lawmakers and advocates passed new legislation to protect warehouse workers from Amazon’s abuse. Now a bipartisan group of State Attorneys is joining the Congressional push to rein in Big Tech and Amazon just had to pay California $500K for misleading their employees about covid. .
No amount of PR lipstick on Jeff Bezos is going to make him the greatest employer on earth. But there is hope for him yet.
Trust me I am not trying to rain on anyone’s on-line holiday shopping. As I have admitted before I am no different from millions of us who have come to rely on the service Amazon provides. Go get those deals on tv’s and i-phones and gifts for the kids. But this billion-dollar profit machine CAN provide this service AND do better by people who make the company work. Jeff Bezos can more than afford to be the Henry Ford of his day, creating middle class union jobs providing the product that is making him wealthy beyond imagine. Henry Ford was awful before he was an enlightened capitalist; Bezos can get there too. Amazon is now the second largest employer in the US, with 150% employee turnover and driving standards down in sector after sector. To restore the promise of hard work and the American middle class we all need Amazon to apply its incredible skill and tenacity to driving a race to shared prosperity and a renewed faith in the American dream.
So after our Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping (let’s be honest the sales practically started last week!) chip in some cash on Giving Tuesday to a few of the amazing organizers that are supporting Amazon warehouse workers and drivers and helping Bezos on his journey to really making Amazon the greatest company it can be. Make contributions to and take action with Athena, United for Respect, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Jobs with Justice, More Perfect US, Powerswitch Action, Rein in Big Tech RWDSU and the Bessemer workers. We can all do our part in supporting the Amazon workers who are organizing for their better bargain.