A controversial bill sponsored by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, entitled the Stop BEZOS Act, is attracting flak for its poor design and unintended consequences.
Named in obvious reference to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the bill would tax large companies on the amount of public benefit their workers are forced to avail. Sanders says that if employers simply paid out a living wage, American taxpayers would save some $150 billion per year.
“We do not believe that taxpayers should have to expend huge sums of money subsidizing profitable corporations owned by some of the wealthiest people in this country,” said Sanders. “That’s what a rigged economy is about.”
CNN reports that Sanders recently spoke with Amazon workers about their work conditions and pay. Several employees said they earned between $11 and $13.25 per hour.
Along with Amazon, the independent New England senator condemned labor practices at Burger King, McDonald’s and American Airlines. Each of the three corporations, together with Amazon, pay wages so low that many workers are forced into public assistance programs.
But Bezos wasn’t willing to take Sanders’ criticism so easily.
In a statement issued last week, Amazon said the senator’s observations are “inaccurate and misleading.” The employee’s Sanders spoke to about food stamps are people who worked with Amazon for a short period or opted for part-time employment.
The median salary for full-time Amazon employees is, says the company itself, close to $34,000.
The mean wages derived by Sanders purportedly include part-time workers and those employed overseas. Amazon stressed that its on-the-ground fulfillment center laborers make more than $15 per hour and are provided with cash, stock and incentive bonuses. It also offers disability insurance, retirement savings, tuition payments and more.
Others were quick to point out that Sanders’ plan, if implemented in its current form, could hurt the same disadvantaged workers its meant to protect.
In an opinion editorial published Thursday in the Washington Post, columnist Catherine Rampell argues what’s been echoed by others: that the Stop BEZOS Act “creates powerful new incentives for companies to shaft the most powerless workers.”
“The bill would discourage firms from hiring low-skilled workers,” writes Rampell. “That’s a given. But worse, it would discourage them from hiring workers suspected of drawing benefits. These workers come, disproportionately, from some of the most vulnerable populations: families with children, older people and workers with disabilities.”
Rampell, along with other critics of the Stop BEZOS Act, suggests that companies may actively avoid hiring disabled employees who’d make use of public assistance regardless of what wage they’re being paid.
While Rampell’s argument may unintentionally play into Sanders’ (democratic) socialist agenda, it does raise a valid enough point—a point which Bernie’s bill has been altered to reflect and amend.