Amazon Sued For Stealing Tips From Workers
On December 8th, several American news outlets reported on an announcement by media and retail conglomerate Amazon. A feature would be introduced where their could induce the company to tip their driver $5 after package delivery.
Yahoo! Finance Live’s Julie Hyman announced, “Customers have to thank the driver via Alexa” for the driver to receive the tip.
While the customer could only deliver the tip to the Amazon driver if they had an Amazon Alexa device, it was still seen as a positive move.
By this time, it is well-known that working for Amazon in a warehouse or delivery capability is not easy. By US standards, conditions are especially poor, with several issues. These include fierce regimentation, not allowing employees breaks to use the restroom, unrealistic quotas for package delivery, and all-out warfare against the prospect of unionisation of the workforce.
But Amazon also gets great press in the United States and is constantly in the news. Amazon’s coverage includes either paid-for or free publicity– Jeff Bezos saying how charitable he is or what products and “deals” are available on the website, for example.
This is easy to understand for a company with control over the US economy, and a great deal of power in the government and in the media. Amazon leader Jeff Bezos owns the influential Washington Post newspaper through a holding company.
The piece of above-mentioned PR was released to the media on the 8th- the same day that another, more sinister, report emerged about Amazon. On that day, the Good Day Seattle television programme conveyed that “our state’s Attorney General (filed) a lawsuit claiming that Amazon deceived consumers into thinking that they were tipping delivery drivers. But instead, Amazon was redirecting their money to help drive up profits and lower labour costs. The company was ordered to pay back $62 million over skimmed driver tips last year.”
Good Day Seattle, aired on a station owned directly by FOX, was slightly confused. Seattle is located in the state of Washington, and it was, in fact, the Attorney General of the capital district, Washington, that filed the lawsuit.
This media mix-up notwithstanding, a review conducted by this author concluded that more American outlets carried the story of Amazon’s “$5 generosity” than the allegations made against them.
However, some outlets carried both Amazon stories, namely Comcast’s CNBC Make It blog, which published a story, “How To Thank Your Amazon Driver.” In it, author Kamaran McNair writes, “The company says it’s celebrating the hard work drivers do and how they’ve helped the company deliver 15 billion packages since 1994, building community with customers along the way…The announcement comes just as news broke that Amazon is being sued by the District of Columbia for allegedly stealing driver tips…The complaint alleged that Amazon changed its payment policies in 2016 in a way that meant drivers earned less than 100% of their tips. Amazon paid a $61.7 million fine to settle the FTC claim, which the agency would pass onto drivers”, and the Attorney General of the capital district is also seeking to inflict “civil penalties in addition to a court order to prevent Amazon from returning to the practice.”
Curiously, both stories emerged on the same day. It is also of note that both involve driver tips. Corporate America employs a sophisticated information dissemination strategy, maintaining close contact with the press and distributing "news" releases worldwide. It would not be out of Amazon’s power to deliver a swift, same-day PR campaign to abet the bad press. However, at this point, there is no evidence of a correlation.
Yahoo’s Hyman responded to the circuitous “holiday bonus” from Amazon. She gave a simpler suggestion, “Just pay your people more,” As a financial journalist, this is something that she knows Amazon will try to avoid doing if it can, at least for those of their workers that labour delivering packages and working in their warehouses.
But labour continues to make small inroads against the giant, and who knows what strike activity will occur as the economic recession continues into the new year. Amazon delivery drivers will make Christmas possible for millions of celebrating Americans. Many feel it is the least they can do to not thieve from the pockets of those who make their profits possible.
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