Democracy Dies In Amazon’s Warehouses

Joe Simonson | Media Reporter

The Washington Post, at least since its latest rebrand in February 2017, prides itself on supposedly illuminating the threats and dangers to American democracy and the nation’s values. While in the Trump era, WaPo’s reporters, columnists and editors have generally agreed that the man in the White House himself represents the most dire of threats.

Regardless of the accuracy of such a judgement, it is one a newspaper can hold and still remain honest and accurate. If that same paper has declared itself such an arbiter of the things threatening the country’s foundations, one would expect it to investigate all the controversies facing all facets of American society.

In the case of WaPo’s coverage, there exists one growing controversy that has remained conspicuously uncovered: the conditions of Amazon’s workplace. (RELATED: Trump Wants Washington Post To Register As A Lobbyist For Amazon)

Such conditions have been covered extensively in the mainstream press. A number of Amazon’s warehouse workforce has long complained about abusive conditions, with one reporter who went undercover as a warehouse worker for six months comparing it to a stint in prison.

“I’ve worked in warehouses before, but this was nothing like I had experienced. You don’t have proper breaks — by the time you get to the canteen, you only have 15 or 20 minutes for lunch, in a 10-1/2-hour working day. You don’t have time to eat properly to get a drink,” the writer, James Bloodworth, told Business Insider.

A series of features in Pennsylvania’s The Morning Call outlines other disturbing conditions faced by Amazon workers at a Breinigsville warehouse.

After a fire alarm went off during a nightshift in November 2010, employees were locked outside in 20-degree temperatures, with many wearing nothing but T-shirts and shorts.

When a disabled employee asked to go inside, where warehouse managers were at the time, his request was denied “and he was forced to remain outside without a coat for about three hours,” the paper said.

The next day, that same employee had to leave work in an ambulance.

Normally, such an omission of horror stories would not necessarily raise eyebrows. After all, Amazon might be one of the largest companies in the world, but the paper has routinely covered other various topics related to the e-commerce giant, like its acquisition of Whole Foods, or Seattle’s tax environment.

Except Amazon and WaPo have a special relationship: namely the fact that they both fall under the ultimate purview of billionaire Jeff Bezos.

And it’s not like the coverage of Amazon’s work conditions have gone unnoticed by national newspapers. WaPo’s largest competitor, The New York Times, printed an article in 2015 describing Amazon as a “bruising workplace.”

In response, Bezos addressed the accusations in an email to employees that was subsequently printed in TheNYT.

This post never made it into the pages of Bezos’s own paper — which he purchased two years earlier, according to a search by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The easiest explanation for why WaPo employees have refrained from scrutinizing its owner is that they don’t want to rock the boat. After all, media jobs are hard to come by, and it is easy to see Bezos’s ownership as a rock of stability.

More than 400 WaPo employees signed a letter to Bezos demanding higher wages and benefits on June 11.

“All we are asking for is fairness for each and every employee who contributed to this company’s success: fair wages; fair benefits for retirement, family leave and health care; and a fair amount of job security,” said a statement from the employees.

Journalists at WaPo seem to have few problems targeting Bezos and his own personal fortune — yet apparently draw the line at attacking the major source of his wealth, Amazon.

Whether that’s a deliberate tactic at the bargaining table remains to be seen, but given how the paper’s reporters have an insatiable desire for stories targeting President Donald Trump, it’s a wonder how they have not channeled some of that energy into uncovering the secrets of the guy who won’t give employees a fair raise.

Such behavior seems typical of many journalists — and surely some work at WaPo. How, after five years, not a single individual has bothered to follow the leads of so many local and national papers remains bizarre.

What is WaPo letting die in the darkness?

UPDATE: This article originally incorrectly stated that Jeff Bezos shared his response to The New York Times article on LinkedIn. An Amazon spokesperson pointed out that the response was emailed to the entire company. The article is now updated to reflect this fact.

Seth Nightengale contributed to this reporting.

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