By Brett Wilkins
Here at Ethics In Tech we like to make it clear to the world that we are not inherently against tech companies. To skeptics, we point out that our founder, Vahid Razavi, is actually a tech entrepreneur, having founded BizCloud and having worked for some of the biggest names in the industry — including Amazon. But speaking of Amazon, we were shocked and disgusted when we heard that one of its subsidiaries, the upmarket supermarket chain Whole Foods, was cutting health care benefits of nearly 2,000 of its part-time workers who clock in less than 30 hours per week.
This might sound like business as usual in the cutthroat environment of today’s hyper-capitalistic world. But consider the fact that Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos was one of around 200 CEOs who just recently signed a Business Roundtable pledge do better by their workers. Specifically, Bezos vowed he would be “investing in our employees” by “compensating them fairly and providing important benefits.”
Bezos signed that pledge in August. Has he already forgotten what he promised? What does his company have to say about its blatant betrayal of the people who make its success possible? Whole Foods responded to the national outrage over its move the way companies everywhere do when they’re trying to sound magnanimous while they’re actually giving you the verbal middle finger. The company released a statement explaining it was ending medical benefits “to better meet the needs of our business and create a more equitable and efficient scheduling model.”
Yeah, and Uber and Lyft eliminated percentage-based surge pricing and replaced it with something much less lucrative in service of “more consistent earnings.” If my sarcasm feels personal, that’s because it is. But that’s a whole different story, and I digress…
Last year, Money reported that it took around 10 second for Bezos to earn as much as the average Amazon employee makes in a year, approximately $28,000. According to data compiled at the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Bezos earned $11.5 million per hour, or $275 million each and every day, during the first quarter of 2018. Earlier this year, Business Insider analyzed the Forbes 400 list of the world’s richest people to determine Bezos made a staggering $78.5 billion during the previous 12 months.
So, Amazon must be saving a tremendous amount of money by terminating health benefits for its employees who need it the most, right? Very far from it. According to DecisionData.org, the company is estimated to be saving a paltry $19 million from the move. It would take Bezos only 4.5 hours to earn enough money to pay for health care coverage for every affected part-time Whole Foods Market worker for an entire year.
Not only is Bezos the richest person in human history, it seems he may well be one of the most frugal.”Frugality” is actually one of the company’s core leadership principles. Former Amazon manager turned author and activist Vahid Razavi, founder of Ethics In Tech, gives numerous examples of this in his recent e-book Ethics In Tech and Lack Thereof: Sleeping Under the Cell Tower (free download here). Among the most telling — and humorous:
Principle 9, “frugality,” is the genesis of countless water cooler jokes… Amazon isn’t just frugal, it’s downright cheap… They hold their “holiday party” in February. And by “holiday” I’m not talking about Presidents’ or Valentines Day, or Black History month either.
“Amazon is also cheap on social responsibility,” added Razavi, “and on its responsibility to pay its fair share of taxes.” . The company pays almost no federal tax, despite being worth over a trillion dollars. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-partisan, non-profit think tank, Amazon, which reported $5.6 billion in annual profit and reaped a $789 million windfall from the newly-enacted Republican tax reform (read bottom-up redistribution) law, didn’t pay a dime of federal income tax in 2017. Furthermore, ITEP says that during the previous five years, Amazon reported US profits of $8.2 billion yet paid an effective federal income tax rate of just 11.4 percent.
Ethics In Tech stands with all workers, especially those in the tech industry, and supports a living wage, health care, housing, education, healthy food, clean air and water and access to the technological tools needed to succeed in today’s world — for everyone. We believe that Bezos’ decision is particularly egregious given his tremendous, indeed unprecedented, wealth. We urge him to reconsider this reprehensible move, which won’t save Amazon much money but will certainly be yet another dark stain on its already beleaguered reputation. Jeff Bezos, please don’t be a dirty, lying cheapskate.
(Photo: Herry Lawford/Flickr Creative Commons)