Amazon Says It's the 'Bernie Sanders of Workplaces' Ahead of Union Vote

Amazon is desperate to seem like a "progressive" workplace despite the evidence ahead of a historic union vote.
March 25, 2021, 3:54pm
Amazon Says It's the 'Bernie Sanders of Workplaces' Ahead of Union Vote
Left: Erik McGregor / Contributor via Getty Images. Right: Pool / Pool via Getty Images

Amazon is facing a historic unionization vote at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama next week, and the company and its executives have taken to Twitter to plead their case. It’s going about as well as you’d expect. 

In response to news that Senator Bernie Sanders will visit Bessemer on Friday to support workers along with Danny Glover and Killer Mike, Amazon CEO of Worldwide Consumer Dave Clark tweeted that he often calls Amazon "the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that's not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace."

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Sanders is widely credited with pushing Amazon to pay workers $15 an hour with the Stop BEZOS Act, which would have punished companies with workers relying on government aid programs such as food stamps. This clearly irked Clark, who noted that the minimum wage in Vermont is $11.75 and tweeted, "@Sen Sanders can't even seem to influence his home state….I can assure you while the Senator was one of many voices on this decision to lead on this was ours."

Ignoring the fact that Sanders doesn’t unilaterally control the state of Vermont, the idea that Amazon’s $15 minimum wage makes it a “progressive workplace” is laughable. Amazon's minimum wage policy not only pushes wages down in the sector of warehouse work (which normally pays much more than $15 an hour), it’s also a cudgel for Amazon to strike against unionization efforts as Clark’s tweets demonstrate. 

The claim that Amazon is the “Bernie Sanders of employers” is way out of step with everything we know about the company. Clark, for his part, reportedly calls himself “the Sniper” and claims he earned that nickname by “lurking in the shadows of Amazon warehouses and scoping out slackers he could fire,” according to Business Standard

He is often credited for building Amazon's delivery machine and was named the global logistics chief back in 2013. This is, of course, the same delivery machine that has created dehumanizing and unsafe working conditions that are endemic to Amazon―conditions which Amazon has attempted to cover up and other times attempted to gamify in order to further increase productivity.

An investigation by Recode in February revealed a long history of "bias, disrespect, and demotions" targeting Black employees and blocking them from promotions at Amazon. Black employees told Recode that "they felt the company had failed to create a corporate-wide environment where all Black employees feel welcomed and respected." Instead, they faced "direct and insidious bias that harms their careers and personal lives."

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Or take Anima Anandkumar, a former executive at Amazon Web Services, who left in 2018 after submitting multiple sexual harassment claims. Amazon investigated, cleared the man she accused, and has since promoted him. 

None of this is progressive, not even remotely, but the insistence that it is against all evidence to the contrary is typical of the big tech PR machine. Today, it’s in every company’s self-interest to make ridiculous claims, cast unfounded aspersions, or even outright lie to journalists and the public because there are often little or no consequences for doing so. 

For example, a campaign to keep gig workers misclassified as independent contractors in California bankrolled by companies including Uber and Lyft  created mailers that tricked voters into thinking Bernie Sanders and other progressive supported the campaign. Proposition 22 passed and the companies won by a large margin. 

A tweet by Amazon News on Wednesday showed how the company undermines unfavorable news reporting.  In response to a tweet from a member of Congress pointing out that Amazon wasn't a progressive workplace because they "union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles" (a revelation from an investigative reporter who went undercover at Amazon) Amazon News glibly replied: "You don't really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us."

This is not limited to Amazon, of course. Every working journalist today is familiar with tech company PR strategies ranging from lists of unfounded “corrections” to constant bullying phone calls from PR staff. 

Whether in the face of the Bessemer union drive, reporting of expansive worker surveillance programs, rulings that it stole worker tips or illegally fired workers,, all that matters for Amazon is to drown out the criticism and return to its talking points, no matter how unmoored from reality they are.