Jeff Bezos and Amazon–The New Robber Barons?

Have we as a working nation learned nothing from the past? Are we all so self involved, that when a news story reports a company is mistreating workers, treating them as disposable objects, and subjecting them to inhuman heat indexes, we respond by calling the workers ‘wimp’s’ ‘whiners’ ‘commies’? We side with the huge corporation whose CEO and founder is the 30th richest man in the world? All because they ship out our purchase rather quickly? How can that be? Didn’t we spend the last 100 years trying to erase the robber barons from our country? The Rockefellers, the Carnegies, etc,, or are we so ignorant of the past that all we remember of these names are their ‘philanthropy’,  Carnegie Hall and Rockefeller Center? Nothing about near slave labor for the people who MADE them the rich men they were, nothing about the brutal treatment and threat of job loss if the worker complained about horrible conditions, or worse, tried to unionize? If fellow workers are of the mind that ‘they should be happy they have a job’ even if working conditions and practices are unfair–from the mildest, to the downright deadly?

I’m deeply disturbed by the reaction of some to an article exposing terrible labor practices by the giant online seller, amazon. The reactions are perhaps worse than the accusations by some who used to and still work in the warehouse that it was so hot during July, amazon paid for ambulances to wait outside in case some of the workers collapsed. Which they had been doing, again and again due to excessive heat.  Even worse are the demands by the amazon powers that be, that workers increase their productivity to an inhuman rate, and if they didn’t make it, were given demerits, enough demerits you were fired, and walked out of the building. On top of all of this, amazon doesn’t even employ their own workers–they use a temp agency so they needn’t pay benefits, give vacations, etc., etc.,  that a real employee gets. Oh, and ‘temps’ protect against organized labor–if everyone only works a certain amount of time, they aren’t there long enough to organize a picnic!

And if the temp employee can’t make the grade, and barely anyone does for very long, they simply hire more peons to replace the ones who through illness, exhaustion, or not keeping a ridiculous pace, quit or are fired. And how do they decide your productivity–scanners. But if you go to the bathroom, the scanner is off, and the time is still considered part of their work period, and therefore if things aren’t being ‘picked’, meaning pulling orders out of boxes and walked over to be shipped, your productivity isn’t up to par,  you get demerits and then fired. So peeing gets you an escort out of the building.

So how can anyone who has worked in similar or even unlike conditions criticize the person who has lost their job due to these unfair labor practices? I’ve read comments where someone compares their terrible job experience and basically says, “I had to endure–so should you, so suck it up!’ When what they should be advocating is EVERYONE have decent working conditions so NO ONE has to ‘suck it up’.  But that means they must care about people other than themselves, which I’ve noticed may be a lost art, in this selfish age. There was a time when people noticing how a corporation was taking advantage of its workers would raise a hue and cry. Now people blame the victims of labor abuse.

And what about amazon–what is their response? Nothing. No statement to the newspaper, no response to the fact that the government agency was sent into investigate allegations of unsafe working conditions–the whistle blower not a disgruntled employee but an emergency doctor at the local hospital because so many were being rushed in for heat exhaustion. No, they simply lie lie lie. And start implementing safety methods well after the fact–well, as soon as they start being investigated, that is. So they claim they’re putting in air conditioning, when all they really needed to do was open the large warehouse doors–why didn’t they? Fear of theft. I kid you not, that’s their excuse. So instead of throwing a couple of people at the doors as extra security, they allow 20 people to collapse, and be sent to the hospital, and who knows how many who were ill that didn’t report it, or were fired before they could get to report it. Before amazon’s ‘new guidelines’ (currently employed workers claim absolutely nothing’s changed), they would give you demerits if you left work due to heat exhaustion, and then they would fire you. Now, you have the-oh-so beneficent gesture that you are allowed to go home, naturally without pay, and not be given any kind of demerit. Yeah, right. And Jeff Bezos doesn’t spend their hard back breaking labor by sending private airplanes to transport his favorite authors for a extravagant retreat. (which he is doing) A true robber baron. A man who could make his employees, oh, that’s right, they aren’t REALLY employed by amazon–just sort of lent, right? A man who could make his ‘temps’ work under conditions he wouldn’t endure for 2 minutes, let alone 10 hour shifts isn’t going to think twice about how he goes about spending his ill gotten gains.

So, what do these newly emerged facts mean to Bezos and amazon–zip, nada, nothing! Of course not–they have the means and the press to counter and suppress unsettling facts, and considering many people think amazon is doing nothing wrong, nothing will touch their Gilded Age renaissance.

Sure, maybe a few people will decide to go back to independent bookstores to buy their books, or other outlets to spend their money on cds and dvds, but not enough to even ripple the cash flow. It took 100 years for this country to get ourselves in a place where the worker has decent wages, conditions, benefits–and all of these things are being chipped away by corporations like amazon and consumers like, well, me and you.


If you’ve not yet read this important article: here’s the link. They also have follow up stories and the transcripts of the investigation into labor abuse.

13 thoughts on “Jeff Bezos and Amazon–The New Robber Barons?”

  1. Thanks for bringing this wretchedness to my attention!
    In a perfect world, OSHA would not only be able to investigate and enforce changes in working conditions, but would also be able to make the company’s president and board members work alongside their employees under “normal” working conditions for a month. I would think we’d see some rapid changes.

    • Nancy–so true. Recently the quarterback of the Philly Eagles, Michael Vick, hurt his hand. Oh poor Vick, some of the fans cried. I said, perhaps karma is also in football, but if so, then he would be down in an empty swimming pool scrambling desperately to get out while dogs shocked him again and again until dead. Then, perhaps karma would be in this particular football player’s life. People were appalled at my brutalness! Oh right, my stating what just ONE of the terrible things he did to dogs, makes me brutal, lol. I think if Bezos and anyone else who feels it’s perfectly OK to treat animals and people like filth under their toes should be forced to be immersed in filth. Just sayin’ lol.

  2. Don’t get me wrong I despise Amazon. However what are you (Diane) DOING about it besides basically rewriting an article someone else wrote. Anyone can complain but give me real solutions. Are supplying any funds (no matter how meager) to any of the laid off employees? Are you organizing a group to help the laid off workers find another job? etc. I guess I’m asking how much do YOU REALLY care about the workers and what are YOU going to do about it (besides rewrite an article)?

    • TB–first off, I didn’t rewrite an article–I summerized what the article said so people unlike yourself who know nothing about this situation, which is most of humanity, would get an idea of what was happening. Second, my job , my DOING is to WRITE. I wrote about my perception of people’s reactions to the situation, in case you missed that major part of the article–not just about Bezos and amazon’s lousy labor practices. To turn my article into a simple ‘rewrite’ and ‘complaining’ is missing my point, which naturally you don’t see because you’re too busy trying to find ways to trash it.

      You want real solutions? And you expect me to supply them just because I write about the situation? Are you asking that of every one else online who reported the episode, are you asking that of the original newspaper and reporter, or is it just me you feel needs to start a fundraiser or become a human resource worker? I’ve done what I can, what my responsibility requires–passing along information about a new kind of gilded age robber baron, and how we as a society contribute to the problem. If that isn’t enough for you, too bad.

      • Your response was what I expected. Typical pass the buck BS. The people you write about don’t care about your “perception of people’s reactions”. You state “I’ve done what I can, what my responsibility requires”. Tell that to the people you write about. It’s not too bad for me, it’s too bad for them. I’m done commenting. Have a nice day.

  3. I like Amazon. I think Jeff Bezos knocked one out of the park when he started that company. I remain a satisfied customer and Kindle owner. And this is all from a guy who is considering buying a bookstore!

    BUT, I agree, if true, the conditions and treatment of the employees are very Grapes of Wrath. Next thing you know, they’ll be opening a new warehouse in the middle of nowhere with the associated Amazon-ville USA village for the workers complete with a price-gouging company store to keep them in perpetual debt and enslavement.

    OK, that’s probably exaggerating a bit.

    But the conditions and treatment our lousy. Bezos should scrap his toy spaceship project and take care of his people.

    • I also liked amazon for certain things, and since there are no independent bookstores around me, I used it when I needed to. But his business practices are not exactly something I want to support. Unless he owns up to this problem, which doesn’t seem he or the company intend to do– no one would speak to the reporters about the story–then I will spend my paltry sums elsewhere, even if it means less books. Thanks for your comment, Tom!

  4. Wow, it sounds like Amazon is getting to be like Walmart, exploiting workers in order to grab a market share and bring in the bucks. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  5. Here’s the craziest thing: Amazon isn’t the cheapest place to buy books – at least if you live in Australia. I run a secondhand bookshop (AllSorts Books in Northcote Victoria) but I often source new books to help regulars. Only twice in the last two years did Amazon have the cheapest copy. The general public is mostly unable to comprehend that there are other booksellers out there. Sad.

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