Depending upon how the winds on Wall Street are blowing this afternoon, Jeff Bezos’s net worth is in the vicinity of $200 billion dollars. If you are outraged by that — get over it. Ever since John D. Rockefeller took monopoly control over U.S. oil pipelines and refineries, Americans have had to come to terms with success and the debris field that follows in its wake.
Gluttony, if you will, is baked into the apple pie — as is a corporation such as Amazon, though let’s not take for granted that Bezos’s empire has been delivered to our cultural doorstep for all of 27 years.
Staggering income inequality in this country has been brewing for a much longer time period. The past four decades, the top 1 percent of wage earners have grown their annual incomes by 160 percent while the bottom 90 percent of incomes grew at 26 percent. The pandemic has only served to accentuate what is already a precarious path to the overcrowded treadmill of America’s working poor.
Given the trends though, in manufacturing technology and corporate consolidation, the path of economic inequality is entirely predictable and if left unchecked the disparities will only widen.
Our collective exuberance and infatuation with Amazon come festooned with strings attached. Those glow-in-the-dark skateboard wheels, the funky flannel pajamas, and LED makeup mirrors must still be packed into boxes by human hands. The very same consumer species that require rent money and peanut butter for the kids.
With 1.3 million employees, Amazon is the U.S.’s second largest employer, and during the first 9 months of 2020 hired an army of 400,000 new employees to meet increased demand. Most are warehouse workers working 10-hour shifts (with a couple of 30 minutes breaks), and are paid between $15 and $16 per hour.
The stresses that are now being played out inside these warehouses represent what has been termed our “modern plantation economy.” All the more apt, given the intensity of union organizing now taking place at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., where 85 percent of warehouse employees are African American.
Mail-in union ballots have been distributed to the 5,805 employees of this warehouse — and voting began yesterday. We won’t know the outcome until the March 29 deadline. If a majority vote yes, the Bessemer warehouse will be the first unionized Amazon warehouse in the U.S.
Fifty U.S. House members signed a letter to Bezos in support of this union vote, saying “this is an opportunity for a reset.” Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store union representing the workers, perceives that, given its size, “Amazon is determining what the future of work will look like.”
The tragic attitude from Amazon management is that instead of viewing the simmering discontent as an opportunity to better understand and meet the needs of the indebted, stressed, working poor — the very same poor who show up for work with a common desire to make life a little better for their offspring, Amazon reacts out of fear.
They have sprung into action hiring anti-union legal teams and public relations firms who post anti-union fliers inside the warehouse’s bathroom stalls. They fear unions are like COVID; if a single Amazon warehouse in Alabama catches it, the virus of unionization could spread to all warehouses.
That of course won’t happen, largely due to robots; robots that don’t take sick leave or holidays. As soon as Amazon can automate the entire “plantation,” pesky unions will just be one less worry.
After years of globetrotting, Todd J. Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view. His policy briefs can be found at US Resist News: https://www.usresistnews.org/