Trillion-dollar e-commerce company Amazon’s “Prime Day” has become a major digital holiday over the years, but employees at the company’s Minnesota and German facilities used the internet craze to amplify their grievances with the company. By the looks of Amazon’s plans for automation, however, their outrage may already be accounted for.
While some would expect Amazon’s continued economic success, various state subsidies and expansions to be returned in terms of a living wage and benefits for their facility workers, productivity-based firings, physically taxing work conditions and the mental stressors of precarious employment appear to remain commonplace at Amazon facilities whether one is working there full- or part-time.
Germany’s strikes, which began Sunday night in Werne, Rheinberg, Leipzig, Graben, Koblenz and Bad Hersfeld saw some 2,000 demonstrators, according to CNN, but early reports from the Minnesota facility’s six-hour walk-out registered around 100 workers in attendance.
To explain how Amazon could appear so indifferent to its employees’ concerns and what that means for the future of the tech-driven company, Dr. Jack Rasmus, professor of economics at Saint Mary’s College of California and author of “Central Bankers at the End of Their Ropes: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depression,” joined Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear on Monday.
“Well, it’s probably one of those smaller facilities that know their days are numbered,” Rasmus told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou. “That’s grinding work, working in a warehouse: grabbing stuff, and stowing stuff, and hustle, hustle. And they probably know that the plan of Amazon is to quickly automate out those jobs.”
Earlier this year, Sputnik reported Amazon had fired over 300 employees at a Baltimore facility between August 2017 and September 2018 over their failure to meet productivity quotas. An Amazon worker’s efficiency is monitored by an automated system that uses a “time off task” metric to assess productivity, deliver warnings and even terminate employees without consulting a single human in the process.
“Amazon’s a job killer,” the professor said, adding, “All this media hoopla about jobs and so forth being created – that’s just temporary. Amazon’s on a crash course to automate out. And they’re introducing new machinery now to do just that at the rate of hundreds of thousands of jobs at every warehouse.”
Boston Dynamics, an American engineering and robotics design company that notably attended Amazon’s Re:Mars conference last month, recently revealed footage of its “Handle” mobile manipulation robot in action.
Though innovations such as Handle certainly enhance productivity and may even get your package delivered to your door quicker, Rasmus argues that Amazon’s boasting of creating thousands of jobs in new cities basically comes with an asterisk in terms of sustaining that number. Furthermore, he says it’s even a possibility that the production-monitoring devices could be a way for Amazon to test the limits of the human body and know when to make the switch to automation.
The professor also referenced Amazon’s July 11 press release pledging to invest upwards of $700 million in “upskilling training programs” by 2025, which, according to the multi-national, trillion-dollar company, would build on its “$15 minimum wage and comprehensive benefits including medical insurance, 401k savings plan, and generous parental leave.”
Rasmus pointed out that not only would the plan only benefit 100,000 so-called “Amazonians,” but it would only cover up to $12,000 per worker in fees.
“What Amazon needs is highly skilled workers at this point if they’re going to automate out the simple work … They want data scientists, they want computer guys, they want software guys and so forth. $12,000 doesn’t even pay a fifth of what it costs for one year in a university with an advanced degree,” he told the hosts.
“Very few will be able to make that transition, but it’s good PR,” Rasmus noted before highlighting that “the workers aren’t stupid; they know that.”
“Amazon’s not a warehouse company only: Amazon’s a big tech company, and it makes most of its profits now from government contracts from the Pentagon. That’s where it’s making its money,” Rasmus concluded.