Amazon’s Workers Deserve Better

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I, like many other cooped-up Americans, have been ordering a lot of stuff from Amazon lately. I just click on what I want, and I can have anything from linen pants to a jar of peanut butter delivered to my apartment in a day or two. Compared to my memories of my parents planning an overnight trip from one end of the state to the other to go shopping when I was younger — it seems like magic.

It would be great if it were magic (I am an Amazon shareholder), but it turns out that Amazon actually employs over three quarters of a million people to make that happen. Amazon is the second largest (after Walmart) private employer in the United States.

Today, I read that the people who are making the magic happen — and I mean the warehouse and distribution center employees, not the software engineers — are talking about going on strike because their management is not willing to pay for protective equipment and give them time to keep their workspaces clean.

As an investor and a former business manager — this sounds to me like management is being really short sighted, and exercising poor judgement.

This company had net income of $11.5 billion last year. That means that after paying for everything, and paying all of the employees (both the lower paid people, and the high paid executives) there was a profit for the owners that worked out to over $14,521 per employee.  

The investors like me (sitting in our homes video chatting with our friends) collectively make more than half as much as all the warehouse workers, who are working hard all day, are paid. And the owners of the company are saying that we don’t want them to take time to clean up after some of their colleagues come down with a virus, or to wear masks or gloves? It’s dangerous and absurd. Honestly, I feel I am lucky (both as an investor and as a shopper) that these guys are showing up to work at all.

Amazon can more than afford to make these small concessions. Order rates are so high that the company just announced that it needs to hire another hundred thousand people. This is good news for Amazon if it can fill those positions, but if you’re an unemployed worker weighing whether or not to apply to a job at Amazon, don’t you think you’d have at least some hesitation when the company is basically announcing that it doesn’t want to take the time to treat its existing workers safely? And won’t the news that multiple Amazon warehouses have coronavirus outbreaks lead to customers choosing not to make as many orders through Amazon?

Amazon, like most companies, has multiple constituencies: customers, employees, shareholders, and community members. Despite what some shortsighted executives might think, taking proper precautions against coronavirus is actually a win for all of these groups.

For every single one of those constituencies, the right thing to do is to take every possible action, even if it means spending some money, to create a working environment for the workers to make the magic happen and reduce health risks in every possible way. It isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. 

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