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In Ad, ACLU Offers to Fight for Amazon Workers


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The ACLU has taken out a full-page ad in the Seattle Times offering to represent Amazon workers “who believe they were unlawfully penalized because of their decision to have children, or because they were caring for a sick relative or recovering from an illness of their own.”  The move comes in response to a New York Times exposé which claims the company and its CEO Jeff Bezos run a harsh workplace where workers are punished for taking care of their families.   

The ad references the NYT piece:

“A recent New York Times article about the corporate culture and employment practices at Amazon has rightly raised concerns among the general public. While claiming that he did not recognize the company described in the article, Jeff Bezos nonetheless urged all Amazon employees to read it and to raise any concerns directly with him and with Amazon’s Human Resources Department.

“That is a welcome first step, but it is not enough. As the Times article makes clear, the demands that Amazon places on its employees can be especially difficult for those employees who are responsible for raising children or caring for ill relatives. In America today, those employees are disproportionately women.

“The Times article also reports that Amazon does not have a single woman on its top leadership team, and that its workforce is heavily male. The metrics, as Amazon would say, are clear. This gender inequality is not unique to Amazon but Amazon now has a unique opportunity to confront and address it by applying the same tools that have made it so successful in the marketplace: vision, innovation, and leadership.”

The article brought the plight of Amazon’s workforce to the forefront anew.  In an op-ed for the NYT following the exposé, guest columnist Joe Nocera touched on Bezos’ enigmatic nature and the importance of journalism to affecting change:

The best thing about Jeff Bezos, the founder, chairman, president and chief executive of Amazon, is that he doesn’t give a hoot what anybody else thinks. The worst thing about Jeff Bezos is that he doesn’t give a hoot what anybody else thinks.

Practically from the moment Amazon went public in 1997, Wall Street has pleaded with Bezos to generate more profits. He has ignored those pleas, and has plowed potential profits back into the company. Bezos believes that if Amazon puts the needs of its customers first — and no company is more maniacally focused on customers — the stock will take care of itself. That’s exactly what has happened. That is the good side of Bezos’s indifference to the opinion of others.

The bad side is the way he and his company treat employees. In 2011, the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call published an eye-opening series documenting how Amazon treated the workers at its warehouses. The newspaper reported that workers “were pushed harder and harder to work faster and faster until they were terminated, they quit or they got injured.”

The most shocking revelation was that the warehouses lacked air-conditioning, and that during heat waves, the company “arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside” to revive workers who were overcome by the heat. “I never felt treated like a piece of crap in any other warehouse but this one,” said one worker. (After the exposé, Amazon installed air-conditioning in its warehouses.)

The lawsuit ACLU intends to pursue is well-timed considering the public’s growing demand for corporate accountability. Nearly a decade after the current generation’s worst economic crisis profits continue to soar while middle class recovery stagnates. A series of letters to the NYT editorial board make this clear. One in particular, from Douglas Binder of Albuquerque, represents the perfect response to Amazon’s ‘bigger, faster, stronger’ above all else approach:

As a longtime user of Amazon Prime and a dedicated Kindle fan, I was disheartened to read your article. Jeff Bezos, I would be O.K. with getting my packages in three days instead of two, and getting my Kindle books in five minutes instead of one. But please take better care of your employees!


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