Amazon’s minimum wage increase is a non-solution to worker exploitation

We should look beyond the wage to the horrific working conditions some Amazon employees must endure

I really have to give the biggest shoutout to my favourite corporation, Amazon. Under the guise of seeming benevolence, they’ve effectively screwed their workers even harder than before, something I always knew was possible but have never seen in action until now. 

In response to harsh criticisms from Senator Bernie Sanders, among others, the bountiful god Jeff Bezos has decreed a $15 USD minimum wage for all US Amazon employees, an increase of a few dollars from the typical warehouse wage. Bezos also stated that Amazon will lobby Congress to raise the US federal minimum wage, which currently rests at $7.35 USD. The new wage is set to be implemented by the beginning of this November.

Sanders, who literally brought legislation to the US Senate called the Stop BEZOS Bill, immediately made an about-face after this announcement, praising Amazon for “doing exactly the right thing.

As a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, Sanders of all people should know that Amazon isn’t doing exactly the right thing. While wages are certainly an important part of the workers’ rights equation, other factors are being blatantly ignored, hidden amongst this cloud of praise. Amazon has historically come under fire for a multitude of workers’ abuses. In their warehouses, affectionately referred to internally as “fulfilment centres,” Amazon managers track the actions of employees using satellite tagging. They track their employees’ movements, reprimanding workers through text message for being idle for mere minutes, with some being fired over several minutes of idle activity.

Employees have also been fired after sustaining workplace injuries, with management refusing to give employees workmen’s compensation forms and cutting them loose after their short-term disability expires. Others also reported quitting their jobs due to fear of injury caused by exhaustion from working long hours.

While it’s clear that this wage hike ignores other substantive structural problems within Amazon, it seems that hike itself won’t even be able to fulfil its own purpose. This rise in wages has also come with the elimination of seasonal bonuses and Amazon’s restricted stock unit program (RSU), a program that allows employees to obtain company stock after working at Amazon for two years. Many employees have calculated that they will lose thousands of dollars in income due to these cuts, doing the opposite of what Amazon claims the wage increase will do.

Raising wages while cutting bonuses and ignoring horrific working conditions is the quintessential neoliberal non-solution to the problem of wage exploitation. Focusing on a single company’s raising of their minimum wage and expecting other companies to follow them depoliticizes the issue of workers’ exploitation; it suggests that we should leave the market to find apolitical solutions to inherently socio-political issues. Why leave the conditions of our labour in the hands of the corporations who employ us, especially when they seem heavily invested in quashing any attempt for workers to organize?

So sure, while it’s great that Amazon employees are going to be making a living wage, they’ll be still working under the baleful eye of the panopticon, their every move tracked, their managers waiting to bring the hammer down on them for “stealing time” from the company. They’ll still be denied workmen’s compensation and the ability to organize and advocate for their rights.

Unless exploitative management structures like this are changed, Amazon’s warehouse workers will still be worked to exhaustion and injury. They’ll indeed be living, but living a hellish and alienating existence.

Andrew McWhinney

Andrew McWhinney is a fifth-year English and political science combined honors student, as well as The Gateway's 2019-20 Editor-in-Chief. He was previously The Gateway's 2018-19 Opinion Editor. An aspiring journalist with too many opinions, he's a big fan of political theory, hip-hop, and being alive.

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