Thursday, September 6, 2018

Taxpayers subsidize Amazon. (Amazon?!) We shouldn't have to. -- Sept. 6, 2018 column

President Donald J. Trump rails against Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, because Trump hates the Post’s tough coverage of his administration. For Trump, it’s always all about him.
Former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders attacks Bezos because he’s the richest man on earth and chief executive of Amazon. Thousands of Amazon workers reportedly make so little they have to rely on public assistance. For Sanders, it’s about taxpayers subsidizing the rich.
Must be an election year.
“The American people are tired of subsidizing multi-billionaires who own some of the largest and most profitable corporations in America,” Sanders, a Vermont independent, said Wednesday when he proposed the Stop BEZOS Act -- Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act.
Nothing subtle in that stiletto-knife acronym.   
The measure would require companies with more than 500 workers to reimburse, in effect, the government for federal benefits their low-wage workers receive. If an Amazon worker received $2,000 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly food stamps, Amazon would be taxed $2,000 to cover the cost. Inc. reached $1 trillion in market value Tuesday, and Bezos’ personal net worth is somewhere in the stratosphere of $167 billion. Naturally people resent him and Amazon’s ever-expanding reach into our lives -- even as we enjoy one-click ordering and same-day delivery.
Amazon is not the only employer that relies on the kindness of taxpayers. Workers at Walmart, Burger King, McDonalds and American Airlines, among others, get federal assistance.     
“Thousands of American workers have to rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing to survive. That is what a rigged economy looks like,” Sanders tweeted.
Rep. Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, has introduced a similar bill in the House.
But don’t get your hopes -- or your dander -- up. These bills are dead. Nothing will come of them.
Like Trump’s claim Bezos should pay higher delivery fees to the U.S. Postal Service, Sanders is making a political point. Sanders’ bill is still significant because it is ludicrous that taxpayers have to plump the bottom line of companies like Amazon.
A living wage is still a dream for many in this country. Congress refuses to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, though many states have. About 39.6 million Americans still need SNAP benefits, despite Republican efforts to pare the rolls.
Taxing the companies is pleasantly punitive but it wouldn’t put a dime in workers’ pockets and could provide a disincentive to hire poor people.
Amazon reported its median salary was $28,446 last year but insists that’s the global median and include part-time workers. The median salary in the United States is $34,123, and full-time employees receive generous benefits, the company said. Median, as you know, means half the people make more and half less.
But, Sanders said, the figures are misleading because Amazon hires 40 percent of its workforce as temporary workers, and their pay isn’t included.
At a “CEOs vs Workers” panel Sanders held in July, Seth King, an eight-year Navy vet who worked at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Chester, Va., talked about working conditions.   
On his feet for 10 hours, he was not allowed to sit down or talk to coworkers in his aisle, and work goals were unattainable, he said. Isolated and depressed, he quit after two months. Sanders plans to visit the Chester facility this month.
Sanders Wednesday shared this story from a current employee:  
“I work 40 hours a week at $13.25. I have 2 kids to support. I receive 90 dollars of food stamps . . . I don’t make enough to eat lunch at work so I split a protein shake between 2 meals to make sure my children eat,” the worker wrote.
Is this the kind of country we want?
Sanders says billionaires like Bezos and the Walton family of Walmart need to get off corporate welfare and pay their workers a living wage. A Democratic Congress might nudge them in that direction.
Trump says the economy has never been better, he’s doing the best job of any president ever, and everybody’s rich. He wants a Republican Congress so he can keep things as they are.
For me, there’s no contest.   
©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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