The world’s richest man may also be its most hated. Tuesday marked the first mass “sick-out” in Whole Foods’ 40-year-history, with workers all-too-credibly claiming the company, owned by Jeff Bezos, doesn’t care about its workers and is doing nothing to protect them from the coronavirus.
This came one day after workers at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island walked out, making similar claims against founder and owner Bezos — including the charge that the company’s infamous strictly timed and supervised breaks don’t allow 20 seconds for proper handwashing.
The response? Amazon fired process assistant Chris Smalls, who led the strike and dared speak to the media.
“It’s a shame on them,” Smalls told Vice. “This is a proven fact . . . they don’t care about their employees: to fire someone after five years for sticking up for people and trying to give them a voice.”
Amazon claimed Smalls was fired because he defied an order to quarantine after coming in contact with an infected co-worker. People buy a lot of things from Amazon. That excuse isn’t one of them.
A leaked internal memo obtained by Vice News revealed Amazon aimed to smear Smalls and make him the “face of the entire union/organizing movement.
“He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers,” wrote Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky. Bezos was reportedly involved in that discussion.
This comes less than a week after 15 state attorneys general wrote an open letter to Bezos, asking him to give Whole Foods and Amazon employees more than two weeks’ paid sick leave.
Another open letter, signed by Bernie Sanders and 15 other congressional lawmakers, asked Bezos to explain just how he was protecting his Amazon warehouse workers, who “continue to raise concerns that their employer is not doing enough to protect them from exposure to COVID-19” even as “Amazon’s US sales have spiked” due to national self-quarantine.
Indeed: Online grocery shopping doubled by mid-March, according to Bloomberg, and overall online shopping soared 25 percent. We are in a retail and restaurant apocalypse, and when we emerge from this pandemic, we will be living in the United States of Amazon. No one will profit like Jeff Bezos.
Bezos already made headlines for becoming even richer, adding $3.4 billion to his $117 billion net worth after dumping stocks just before the crisis exploded — installing him in a rogues’ gallery of pandemic profiteers that includes Bill Ackman and Carl Icahn.
Other headlines as his serfs strike: Bezos got his space company Blue Origin deemed an “essential service.” He spent $165 million for a Beverly Hills estate belonging to David Geffen — himself the target of biblical wrath for posting an aerial sunset photo of his yacht, from his yacht, over the weekend.
It seems no accident that Bezos suddenly announced a $100 million donation to Feeding America late Thursday afternoon.
Oh, and Bezos made news for giving his warehouse and Whole Foods workers a whopping $2 per hour raise — which, in his mind, must pass for hazard pay, because it’s not permanent.
Employees of Amazon and Whole Foods have been among our most essential workers for weeks now, not just practically but psychologically. They reassure us of a strong supply chain for food, medicine, cleaning supplies and other necessities — all while risking their lives, and the lives of their families, in a most unglamorous and thankless way.
It is unfathomable and inexcusable that a company like Amazon, which paid zero federal tax on $11.2 billion in profit in 2018, refuses to treat its employees in a decent, compassionate, fair manner and pay them in kind. A company based in Seattle, home of our first known coronavirus case, refuses to do better.
Jeff Bezos, in all his realized personal ambition, clearly wants his legacy to be that of a great man. How much better and more interesting, for him and for us all, if he were a good one.