The Vampiric Passion Of Jeff Bezos
There is nothing quite so chilling as inspirational quotes from business leaders put into the context of the people over whom they have claimed authority. While they lead financial elites to dream big, they lead the rest of us to cower in fear of the new sacrifices we will be forced to accept as a result of the inspiration, innovation, disruption, and “hacks” devised by the elites.
So it is that I find an inspirational piece of advice from Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon: “You don’t choose your passion. Your passion chooses you.”
Deep, huh? In business, your passion finds you… and then what?
If you’re working for Jeff Bezos, and your passion chooses you, Amazon will confiscate it from you because it interferes with the efficiency of your labor.
Let’s say you’re an employee of Jeff Bezos in one of Amazon’s many distribution centers. Before your passion finds you, Amazon’s computers will find you, because you’re forced to wear an electronic geolocation device that records your every move, and if you slacken your pace for even a moment, your overseers will be automatically notified of your transgression.
If your passion should happen to find you during your shift with Amazon, you will probably forget it, because Amazon’s overseers don’t allow their underlings to stop to catch their breath for long enough to jot down an idea in a little notebook. You couldn’t ask a coworker to help you remember the idea, either. Amazon distribution center workers also aren’t allowed to talk to each other. It’s too inefficient.
After the first half of an eleven-hour shift working in the strict conditions of an Amazon warehouse, the passion to eat lunch may find you. Amazon won’t pay you during your lunch break, though, and also will only give you 30 minutes to eat lunch, which includes the time to clock out, walk for several minutes across the huge warehouse to the lunch facility… and then walk back and clock back in. Workers can’t fit much passion for satisfying your hunger into the time left.
At Amazon, unless you’re of a certain high status, you aren’t allowed to let your passion find you. Your job is to follow the passion of Jeff Bezos.
Unfortunately for people working at Amazon, the passion of Jeff Bezos appears to be corporate vampirism. Bezos gains his vitality by sucking it out of the people who work for him.
A great deal was made of the news last year that Amazon systematically abuses its white collar employees. Inhumane behavior against anyone deplorable, and Amazon’s policies of purposefully pitting white collar workers against each other (and against the company’s blue collar workers, too) while depriving them of the simple experiences needed to sustain mental health, are sadistic. One might say that at least Amazon’s white collar workers are paid well. That’s true, but in a sense, that money only makes their dehumanization complete.
Amazon has a deliberately constructed psychologically painful, emotionally manipulative, biologically torturous working conditions for its white collar employees, but with a crazy justification: That human beings are expendable commodity. Jeff Bezos has cultivated a churn and burn policy – Amazon burns out its white collar employees, turning them into wrecks, but churns them rapidly in and out so that, when Amazon white collar employees become wrecks, they are either fired or flee, and Amazon is ready to bring in new employees to replace them, beginning the process of abuse all over again.
Amazon claims that it’s not a problem to treat people in this way, because the abuse makes its white collar employees “qualified” to go out and get other high paying jobs. By enduring Amazon, the idea goes, they’ve proven that they have what it takes. But what is it, really, that they have what it takes to do? They have what it takes to go to another high-pressure company where abusive management is the norm, and endure the suffering there. Or, even worse, they have what it takes to start new companies where the abusive culture of Amazon is replicated, spreading the suffering like a plague.
Think about what having Amazon on a resume says about a white collar worker. It says that the person is willing to sacrifice their humanity, and to participate in a system that sacrifices the humanity of others, in exchange for money. Is that the kind of person anyone really wants to work with? Amazon’s abusive employment practices may enhance economic efficiency, but they also drive down quality. But then, Amazon isn’t a company that delivers quality. It just delivers things quickly and cheaply.
It certainly is true that Amazon pays its white collar workers much better than it pays its blue collar workers. Amazon’s corporate culture is based upon the founding principle that economic inequality brings opportunity – for those who start with the money required to buy their way in to the top of the pyramid.
Amazon’s delivery drivers, those people who get packages to customers so amazingly fast, are paid as independent contractors, a dollar or two for each package they deliver within a certain amount of time. They don’t get reimbursed for the fuel they use to zip between delivery locations, however, and they have to buy their own delivery vehicles, along with the high maintenance costs that go along with intense delivery routes. The costs of delivering can erode drivers’ income down to a mere pittance, less than the minimum wage. Because the delivery drivers are independent contractors, they receive no health insurance for dealing with the medical consequences of a job that requires them to sit down, barely moving at all, day after day. They don’t get compensated for workplace injuries either, and when they finally break down and can’t do the work of delivery any longer, there is no severance package or unemployment benefit. The little bit of money they receive simply disappears, replaced with no income at all.
So, you could say that, though they’re forced to endure humiliating conditions, at least Amazon’s blue collar employees receive the benefits of a secure job – if only that were true. At long last, when all the vitality is drained from an Amazon warehouse worker, gone to feed more money into the already swollen bank accounts of Jeff Bezos and his friends, the worker’s wrecked body and damaged mind will be abandoned to fend for itself.
That’s what happened to Rosemarie Fritchman, who was fired for obeying orders, and then denied unemployment compensation by Amazon. Fritchman’s body began to fail as she was working at a dangerously hot Amazon warehouse. So, she was ordered by Amazon medical personnel to go home. Then, the next day, she was fired by Amazon… for going home. What’s more, Amazon then paid Integrity Staffing Solutions, a human resources firm, to deny her the unemployment benefits she was legally entitled to – and she was only asking for $160 per week.
It’s not fair to say that Amazon only subjects all of its workers to dangerous heat. It also subjects them to dangerous cold – kicking them out of warehouses for long stretches of time, to stand outside without shelter in the wintertime, wearing only short-sleeved shirts and shorts, with temperatures in the 20s Fahrenheit. Amazon could have had resources available to take these workers to reasonably warm buildings, but that would have cost money, and deprived Jeff Bezos of the financial vitality that he insists upon draining with unrelenting passion.
These are the human consequences of the passion that found Jeff Bezos.
They are also the consequences of the passion that finds Amazon customers, who feel an urgent hankering to buy something, but only at a low, low price, with cheap and quick delivery.
Are you going to keep on allowing that passion to choose you?