Bernie vs. Bezos

The democratic socialist senator continues to escalate his war on Amazon

Bernie Sanders.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)

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Bernie Sanders has escalated his war on Amazon, said Jay Greene at The Wall Street Journal. The Vermont senator this week introduced a bill that would punish large companies whose low-wage workers rely on public benefits to get by. Sanders called the bill, which would require large employers to repay the government for the cost of the aid, the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act — or the Stop BEZOS Act, for short. Sanders spent the summer browbeating the company and claiming many of its warehouse workers rely on food stamps and Medicaid. Last week, he asked Amazon employees to share their on-the-job "horror stories." But Amazon is fighting back, said Shira Ovide at Bloomberg. The retail giant has quietly borne attacks from the U.S. president, who has accused it of dodging taxes and taking advantage of the U.S. Postal Service. However, it has come out swinging against Sanders, calling his accusations "inaccurate and misleading."

Under the Sanders plan, "if an Amazon employee receives $300 in food stamps, Amazon would be taxed $300," said Abha Bhattarai at The Washington Post. This could prove costly: Researchers say "as many as 1 in 3 Amazon employees in Arizona — and about 1 in 10 in Pennsylvania and Ohio — receive food stamps." Similar charges have been leveled against Walmart and McDonald's. One study found that 52 percent of fast food workers received some kind of public assistance. Amazon argues that critics understate its pay scales: The median pay for its full-time U.S. workers is $34,123, and the company believes only some part-time employees might get food stamps. But even if workers do need help from the government, punishing them when employees use government programs is the wrong way to go about reform, said Ryan Cooper at The Week. It ends up undermining exactly the kind of "social-democratic welfare state that Sanders wants to build." Yes, many of Amazon's warehouse workers are underpaid, but "a proper 40-hour week with eight-hour days, regularly scheduled shifts and breaks, climate control," and less surveillance would benefit workers more.

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It's obvious why Amazon ignores Trump and engages with Sanders, said Eugene Kim at CNBC. The president has developed "such a reputation for attacking companies with little to no evidence to support his claims" that "he's no longer taken seriously." Sanders is "perceived as a more credible critic," because his claims against Amazon resonate strongly as "the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to widen." Sanders deftly plays on the "unprecedented wealth" Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has amassed, said Chavie Lieber at Vox. In the past 12 months, Bezos' personal fortune has zoomed from $99 billion to an eye-popping $157 billion, cementing his status as the world's richest man. Just this week Amazon joined Apple to become the second American company with a $1 trillion market valuation. Sanders speaks to supporters who see capitalism as broken and believe "giant corporations only feed the problem." Much as Amazon would like to avoid the topic of its founder's wealth, any conversation around inequality in 2018 will inevitably involve Bezos.

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