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Jeff Bezos: A Not-So-Good Billionaire?

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While McKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, is handing out billions to worthy organizations, Jeff Bezos is not so generous, especially to the Amazon workers who made his fortune.

At last look on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Bezos was the richest person in the world, with $189 billion, which is growing rapidly as more consumers rely on Amazon for purchases during the pandemic.

While Bezos has promised nearly billions to combat climate change, Amazon workers continue to complain of low wages and long working hours in a tedious job.

Chuck Collins, director of the Charity Reform Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies, told The New York Times that Scott is “disrupting” the norms of billionaire philanthropy.

“You think of all these tech fortunes, they’re the great disrupters, but she’s disrupting the norms around billionaire philanthropy by moving quickly, not creating a private foundation for her great-grandchildren to give the money away,” Collins said...

Bezos saw his net worth grow by nearly 60 percent over the course of 2020, or by about $58 billion. Bloomberg estimates Bezos’ current net worth at $183 billion [it is now $189 billion and growing]. Over the year, the nation’s four richest individuals—Bezos, Gates, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerbergand Tesla CEO Elon Musk—saw their combined fortunes grow by nearly $230 billion.

During the same period, Feeding America believes some 50 million Americans—up from about 35 million in 2019—will have experienced food insecurity this year. That number includes some 17 million children. Unemployment has jumped dramatically during the pandemic, as lockdown measures have forced thousands of businesses to close, and millions of Americans are estimated to be on the verge of eviction...

During the pandemic, Amazon workers became vital to providing Americans with necessities, and their working conditions and compensation drew national attention. While Bezos, their boss, grew wealthier and wealthier, they continued to work long hours for low wages in what many described as risky job conditions. Attempts to strike and organize were met with strong pushback and, in some cases, retribution from Amazon’s management.

In March, as the pandemic began to surge and some Amazon workers in New York attempted to organize in protest of their working conditions, the company decided to fire assistant manager Chris Smalls. The organizer learned that he’d been fired as he and dozens of other Amazon employees protested their company’s response to COVID-19. The Amazon workers were demanding what many saw as basic needs—personal protective gear and hazard pay—as they carried out their essential work.

Although Amazon briefly gave temporary wage increases and double overtime pay during the early months of the pandemic, those measures ended in June. The company has also invested heavily in personal protective equipment for workers and other measures in an effort to protect them. In November, Amazon gave front-line workers a one-time $300 holiday bonus, and in June they received $500. Regardless of these measures, employees have continued to express frustration.

In February, Bezos did announce that he would give $10 billion to fight climate change. This money will be transferred through an Earth Fund vehicle he set up. Thus far, that fund has announced doling out $791 million to 16 organizations including the Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund.

The Amazon source pointed to an April donation of $100 million from Bezos to Feeding America. Bezos additionally pledged to contribute up to $25 million to All in WA—a coalition of Washington state philanthropic, business and community leaders—back in May. The billionaire also pledged over $1 million to more than 40 homeless organizations this year.

But many believe there is a need for a systematic change at Amazon and in how billionaires like Bezos are allowed to accumulate wealth.

“Bezos has accumulated so much added wealth over the last nine months that he could give every Amazon employee $105,000 and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic,” Robert Reich, who was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, wrote in a Sunday column for The Guardian.

“So you’d think he’d be able to afford safer workplaces. Yet as of October, more than 20,000 U.S.-based Amazon employees had been infected by the coronavirus,” Reich wrote.

Washington State, where Amazon and the Gates Foundation (and family) are located, has no corporate or personal income taxes. Is that coincidental?

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