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Jeff Bezos grew to become even richer because of Covid-19. However he nonetheless will not shield Amazon staff | Robert Reich

As a former secretary of labor, I typically obtain mail from staff with job complaints, who apparently consider I nonetheless have some authority. However the e mail I obtained a number of days in the past from a employee at Amazon’s Entire Meals supply warehouse in Trade Metropolis, Brooklyn, New York, was notably distressing.

She stated that six of her co-workers had examined optimistic for Covid-19 since 22 October, as a result of “protected social distancing shouldn’t be solely being ignored however discouraged,” including that “after we specific our discomfort to administration, we’re yelled at about filling orders quicker, or instructed that we are able to take a depart of absence with out pay.”

She ended by noting “we work for a trillionaire.”

Effectively, not fairly. Jeff Bezos is value $180bn, making him the richest individual on the planet. And his company, Amazon, which additionally owns Entire Meals, is among the many world’s richest companies.

Bezos has gathered a lot added wealth during the last 9 months that he might give each Amazon worker $105,000 and nonetheless be as wealthy as he was earlier than the pandemic.

So that you’d assume he’d have the ability to afford safer workplaces. But as of October, extra than 20,000 US-based Amazon workers had been contaminated by the coronavirus.

That estimate comes from Amazon, by the way in which. There was no impartial verification, nor has Amazon revealed what number of of them have died.

Name it Scrooge capitalism.

Pandemic-fueled on-line purchasing coupled with the upcoming vacation season have pushed Amazon so as to add 400,000 jobs, largely in its warehouses and supply operations. However the jobs pay badly and too many are unsafe.

Many years in the past, workers in most massive companies might treatment unsafe working situations by complaining to their union, which pressured their employer to repair the issues, or to the Occupational Security and Well being Administration (based in 1970), which levied fines.

Alternatively, they may embarrass their firms by going public with their complaints. As a final resort, they may sue.

None of those routes is available to Amazon warehouse staff – nor, for that matter, to warehouse staff at Walmart, or to most staff in different super-spreader Covid workplaces reminiscent of meatpacking crops and nursing houses.

Amazon’s staff don’t have any union. All through its 25-year historical past, the company has aggressively fought union organizing.

Nor, for that matter, do 93.8% of America’s private-sector staff. Fifty years in the past, greater than a 3rd had been unionized.

And Osha? For the reason that begin of the pandemic, it’s been ineffective. Though receiving greater than 10,000 complaints of unsafe situations, it has issued simply two citations.

Even underneath the upcoming Biden administration, Osha could have too few inspectors to adequately cowl Amazon’s gulag of warehouses not to mention each different office in America the place staff are endangered. And its penalties are inadequate.

Amazon workers who go public with their complaints are more likely to lose their jobs. The company prohibits its staff from commenting publicly on any side of its enterprise, with out prior approval from executives.

To date through the pandemic, it has fired at the least two white-collar workers who publicly denounced situations at its warehouses, in addition to a number of warehouse staff who raised security considerations to media retailers.

Amazon isn’t alone. A survey performed in Might by the Nationwide Employment Regulation Mission confirmed that one in eight American staff “has perceived doable retaliatory actions by employers towards staff of their firm who’ve raised well being and security considerations” about Covid-19.

Pandemic-fueled on-line purchasing coupled with the upcoming vacation season have pushed Amazon so as to add 400,000 jobs, largely in its warehouses and supply operations. {Photograph}: Ralph Freso/Reuters

The ultimate choice is to sue the corporate, however lawsuits towards employers over Covid have been uncommon due to difficulties proving that the worker contracted the virus at work. A Washington Submit evaluation discovered that for the reason that pandemic started, simply 234 private harm or wrongful loss of life lawsuits have been filed as a result of virus.

All of which reveals the utter fatuousness of the US Senate majority chief Mitch McConnell’s and his fellow senate Republicans’ demand that any new coronavirus financial reduction bundle should embrace a company “legal responsibility defend” towards Covid circumstances.

Even when such lawsuits had been profitable, companies have already got restricted legal responsibility. That’s what it means to be an organization. Within the unlikely occasion Amazon had been sued and plaintiffs gained, Jeff Bezos would stay comfy.

The heinous resurgence of Covid within the US makes clear that companies want extra – not fewer – incentives to guard their staff.

As tens of millions of Individuals lose no matter meager earnings that they had, they need to not have to decide on between taking a dangerous job – reminiscent of in an Amazon warehouse – or placing meals on their household’s desk.

Bezos and Amazon, in addition to each main employer in America, can simply afford to guard their staff. And the richest nation on the planet can simply afford to offer each American enough earnings assist throughout this nationwide emergency.

However underneath Scrooge capitalism, they won’t achieve this until compelled.

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