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Why an Amazon facility is the wrong place for Obama to talk about jobs
Some liberals are fuming over Obama's choice of venue
Liberals are reading a lot into President Obama's choice of venue for today's big jobs speech.
Liberals are reading a lot into President Obama's choice of venue for today's big jobs speech. AP Photo/Susan Walsh
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resident Obama will give a speech Tuesday in Chattanooga, Tenn., describing his "grand bargain for middle-class jobs," seen by many as an attempt to unlock the legislative stalemate over the economy with Republicans in Congress.

The plan will propose increased investment in infrastructure and education in exchange for a cut in the corporate tax rate, which the GOP has asked for in the past. Obama is also proposing a minimum tax on foreign earnings even if they aren't brought home, an attempt to curb the allure of foreign tax havens.

The plan will certainly come under scrutiny by Republicans, who have shown little willingness to compromise with the president. Some progressives, however, are angry about his choice of venue: An Amazon.com shipping facility.

First, there is the irony of Obama pushing for corporate tax reform against the backdrop of a company that reportedly avoided paying $700 million in taxes by creating a complicated tax shield centered around its office in Luxembourg.

Then there is the issue of the quality of the "middle-class jobs" Obama says he wants to create. Amazon has announced it is adding 5,000 new full-time employees to 17 fulfillment centers around the country. As Tim Fernholz writes in Quartz, these jobs aren't exactly the key to a stronger middle class.

"The gigs involve assembling the customers' Amazon orders for delivery, and the company says the jobs pay about $11 an hour — not quite above the poverty line for a family of four," writes Fernholz. "Amazon is careful to emphasize that the pay is better than traditional retail, which is to say, the smaller stores that Amazon and Walmart have put out of business."

Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon talks to Nelson Lichtenstein, the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California, who responded to the news that Obama was speaking at an Amazon facility by saying, "Oh, Jesus." He continued:

They’re investing in America, that’s true. Amazon is growing rapidly, but they’re not creating good jobs. They’re creating insecure, temporary, attenuated jobs, which are reproducing all the pathologies of a two-tier labor market and a world of inequality — that’s what they’re creating. And they’re a fabulously successful company with a new technology that could create a solid working class, but they chose to instead create something that looks like it’s out of the 19th century. [Salon]

Michael Maiello of Esquire agrees, stating, "If this is a middle-class job, we're setting our expectations too low."

Booksellers also aren't happy with Obama's choice of Amazon, which is reportedly responsible for one of every four new books sold.

In a letter to Obama, the American Booksellers Association complains that Amazon doesn't charge local sales tax in many states and accuses the company of selling books at a loss to lure shoppers into buying big-ticket items.

"At a time when Main Street retailers, including indie bookstores, show promise of recovering from the recession, we are disheartened to see Amazon touted as a 'jobs creator' and its warehouse facility used as a backdrop for an important jobs speech, when, frankly, the exact opposite is true," the letter reads, claiming that "every $10 million in spending that shifts from Main Street retailers to Amazon results in a net loss of 33 retail jobs."

Despite outcries from the Left, Obama probably isn't going to take much heat from the public, especially considering a report last year that found Amazon to be the third-most-reputable company in America.

Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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