In the information economy where the old but solid industrial jobs are long gone and billionaires are created overnight with a new inovative idea or technological invention,
one theme stands out: the push for higher and higher efficiency, and hence profits. Now, efficiency is desirable, even imperative in any business, but then there’s a line that’s crossed where squeezing the workers is…
Such is the reality of the “New Economy” where the new billionaires are heralded as the models in society to emulate. Yet, not much is said about the dark side of these entrepreneurial inovators. The way they push their workers to make their millions and billions. There was the recent flap about Steve Jobs and Apple and how their companies in China have harsh working conditions, which would be obvious violations in the U.S., so that millions around the world have an easier life using Apple products.
The Seattle Times recently did a report on the working conditions of Amazon.com, probably one of the largest on-line retailers right now. When Amazon founder Jeff Bazos is held up as a model businessman, even making Time Magazines Man of the Year, this dark aspect of how he makes his billions usually isn’t mentioned.
“By the numbers, Amazon’s safety record stacks up well in an industry that has long been criticized for harsh working conditions and injuries.
“We measure progress on safety using the ‘recordable incidence rate,’ which is the primary metric defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA],” Amazon said in a written statement last week. “From Jan. 1, 2006, to Sept. 30, 2011, our U.S. fulfillment network had an annual average recordable incidence rate ranging from 2.5 to 4.2. These rates are lower than for auto manufacturing, the warehousing industry and even for department stores.
“To put it simply, it’s safer to work in an Amazon fulfillment center than in a department store.”
But a federal lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania and interviews with a physician and warehouse workers in Washington and Kentucky suggest that the numbers Amazon is reporting may not tell the whole story.
In the lawsuit, settled in July, Amazon warehouse worker Paul Grady said a warehouse safety worker in Allentown, Pa., instructed him to tell emergency workers that his hip injury was not work-related, even though he says it was. Grady’s injury was first reported in an investigation of Amazon’s Pennsylvania warehouse operations last year by the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, which also found indoor temperatures soared so high that Amazon had ambulances parked outside to take workers to the hospital.
Three former workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Campbellsville told The Seattle Times there was pressure to manage injuries so they would not have to be reported to OSHA, such as attributing workplace injuries to pre-existing conditions or treating wounds in a way that did not trigger federal reports.
Pam Wethington, a former Campbellsville employee, took several months off work in 2002 because of stress fractures in both feet. She says her doctor attributed the injury to walking miles on the concrete floors of the warehouse, but Amazon disputed that the fractures were work-related.”
It seems that it’s not much different than the Robber Barons at the turn of the last century where they ran the workers into the ground, hired thugs to beat them if they wanted to organize, fired them for getting hurt and worked long hours, conditions which demanded organized labor for protection.
So far, I’m not aware of those conditions in the U.S. (Chine, of course, is another story) yet. But as laws continually change to favor business over labor, it may not be far down the road. In any case, they can, and do, send the jobs to China where they do have unsafe working conditions, in fact many are really harsh. And then there’s the Northern Marianna Islands where they have barbed wired in factories with armed guard towers and don’t always pay the workers. Would you complain about your pay with armed guards around your factory?
What is it with the billionaires who don’t want to spread the wealth around to those who help them make their money? I know they spread it around to the politicians who continually make favorable laws for them against honest working Americans.
Please comment below if you know of any companies that squeeze their work force to make higher profits.