As America reopens for business, you might expect Jeff Bezos, the richest man in America, and his Amazon corporation, one of the most profitable corporations in America, to set the corporate standard for how to protect the health of American workers.

Think again.

Amazon’s warehouses have become COVID-19 hotspots, yet Amazon has repeatedly fired workers who sound the alarm — including, just recently, a warehouse worker in Minnesota who spoke out against unsafe conditions, and, earlier in the pandemic, a worker who led a walkout Amazon’s huge JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island after several employees tested positive for COVID-19.

A few weeks ago, Amazon fired two white-collar employees after they criticized the company’s treatment of warehouse workers. I talked with one of them, Maren Costa, at a virtual rally. (The event didn’t go off quite as planned. After thousands of employees had RSVPed, Amazon deleted all invitations and emails regarding the event, according to organizers.)

“Why is Amazon so scared of workers talking with each other?” Costa wondered. “We’re all in this together. No company should punish their employees for showing concern for one another, especially during a pandemic.”

At Amazon’s AVP1 fulfillment center near Hazleton, Pennsylvania — under federal investigation because of an early spike in cases — workers say Amazon stopped sharing information about COVID-19 cases, so they started their own unofficial tally, which at last count was 64 and rising.

“Plain truth: No one cares about us,” one of them told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Another pointed to lack of enforcement of health and safety regulations. “Believe me — we’ve complained and complained and complained,” the worker said.

Only recently did Amazon start offering two weeks’ paid sick leave to workers afflicted with the virus, but some sick workers say they’ve had trouble collecting their pay despite the new policy.

The company now says anyone who doesn’t return to work will be terminated, and it’s about to eliminate an extra $2-per-hour hazard pay it had given warehouse workers.

Why has Bezos set the bar so low for the rest of Corporate America? It can’t be the cost. Amazon can afford the highest safety standards in the world. Last quarter, its revenue surged 26 percent and its profits soared to $75.5 billion. Since March, Bezos’ net worth has jumped nearly $24 billion.

So, what is it? Perhaps the arrogance and indifference that comes with extraordinary power.

Consider billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, who last week reopened his Tesla plant despite public-health orders from Alameda County, California, to keep it shut. After Musk threatened to sue the county and move the factory and jobs to another state, officials finally caved.

Tesla promptly notified workers that, “Once you are called back, you will no longer be on furlough so if you choose not to work, it may impact your unemployment benefits ...”

So Tesla workers are now being forced to choose between their livelihoods or, possibly, their lives. Musk says his factory is safe, but a worker who returned to the production line told the New York Times that little has changed, and it’s hard to avoid coming within 6 feet of others.

Why is Musk so intent on risking lives? It can’t be the money. Musk is rolling in it. Tesla’s stock closed at $790.96 a share on May 13, which put the company’s value at about $146 billion, according to the New York Times. (By contrast, GM, which produces far more cars, is valued at less than $31 billion.)

It’s that, like Bezos, Musk wants to impose his will on the world. The pandemic is an obstacle, so it must be ignored.

In January, Musk said COVID-19 would be nothing worse than the common cold. In March, he tweeted that “coronavirus panic is dumb.” By late April he was calling shelter-in-place orders “fascist” and asserting that health officials were “breaking people’s freedoms.”

If all this reminds you of someone who now occupies the Oval Office, that’s no coincidence. Musk’s thin-skinned, petulant narcissism bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Donald Trump, who last week tweeted, “California should let Tesla and @elonmusk open the plant, NOW.”

I once oversaw the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and can attest that Trump’s OSHA is doing squat about worker safety in this pandemic. Trump is fine with this. All he cares about is being re-elected.

Trump despises Bezos, presumably because Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which has been critical of Trump. But it’s easy to see in Bezos the same public-be-damned bullying that emanates from the White House.

Enough! Those in power must stop viewing the pandemic as an obstacle to personal ambition. More than 300,000 people around the world have lost their lives in just four months, including about 90,000 Americans.

Bezos, Musk, Trump, and all others in positions to help contain this disaster are morally bound to do so, their own ambitions be damned.

Robert Reich’s column is syndicated by the Tribune Content Agency.

(23) comments

Spock Here

Love this "our local group of spittle flinging radical right Lizard Prince founding father necromancers"[beam][innocent][beam]


This guy's so far out he's in the left field bleachers. Drop him and bring back Michelle Malkin.


Oh Yes let's bring back Michelle Malkin!! The ultra-right Afro-American blogger who, Wikipedia notes, has been associated with neonazis and the white nationalist movement, and was dropped by the conservative organization Young America's Foundation due to her support of Holocaust deniers. It seems our local group of spittle flinging radical right Lizard Prince founding father necromancers would serve enough to advance the right agenda without the absurd irrationality of the Malkin. The Capital Steps amusing diddy for Ann Coulter (after Phantom of the Opera--"Loonies of the Right") seems equally appropriate for Michelle:

"Liberals are . . . a bunch of limp cry-babies

I once bit . . . a dog and gave it rabies!!"

Malkin lives on the other side of the rational spectrum from the former Secretary of Labor and noted author. I've read several of Robert Reich's books and have yet to find a chapter, even a paragraph that would contradict the fundamental idea that we should seek to live in a nation that is fair, decent, and tolerant.

Bernie Mac

You don't know what you're talking about. You're just babbling.


"Afro-American" WTH?

Doc Samson

@OldPhil - I know, right? But, between Wikipedia and his inherent Japanese wisdom, he pretty much knows all!


You're right. Michelle Malkin is of Phillipine descent.


It's a disgrace that the Star prints this fool's columns.

Doc Samson

Agreed! Unfortunately, the Star seems to be slowly, but surely, embracing socialism.


Or even worse than embracing 'socialism' might be the radical idea that government could be an instrument for good in the lives of the disenfranchised.


Sounds right, comrade!

Doc Samson

You really don't understand history, do you? Please tell us how your "cult of gov't" is any different than the religion your side consistently mocks. The lives of the disenfranchised? Also, please explain how, as gov't has GROWN, the number of disenfranchised has GROWN? Seems like an easily measurable correlation...

Bernie Mac

I am very disappointed in some people of my generation. We grew up in a time (60s and 70s) in which we were skeptical and distrusting of government. I still am. Now many of my peers have become loyal unquestioning subjects of the big government. Very disappointing.

Spock Here

Money, greed, and power. Just another day in corporate America.

Bernie Mac

Attention All Democrats:

The virus can now penetrate doors and windows. You can also get it thru your internet connection. The CDC and Dr. Fauci are recommending that everyone turn off the electricity and computers. Everyone should retreat to their basements and cower in place. They will send someone to your house when it is safe to come out. Be safe.

Doc Samson

Lol! Money, greed, and power. Just another day in the fascist Left's Big Gov't utopia...


If the virus that you are talking about, Bernie, is stupidity, then you are a superspreading vector.


Attention all Trump supporters:

Donald “stable genius” -aka the Q in QANON-Trump is correct- ingesting bleach is the way to go. And because its warmer and his hunches are ALWAYS right, it is now safe to fill up giant stadiums to “own” the libs. Please pack as many of his followers into as many stadiums as possible. Do not bother with masks or separating....this has all been a hoax by the Dems to divert your attention away from the pizza parlor in DC where Hillary is hiding her emails and thousands of children she intends to sell into sexual slavery....Hillary, Biden, and Bill Gates that is. Oh and Steven Spielberg. I’ve probably forgotten some, but the point is- get out there and rally and show your support. Shake hands to show the world you do what you want, when you want. Let freedumb ring!


Oh, Come on! The children weren't gonna be sold-- they were gonna be harvested for their donor organs on the internet! Who would notice if a few hundred caged immigrant children went missing? We should rally as many unmasked MAGA supporters as possible: thin the herd by Nov.3rd!!

Doc Samson

"if a few hundred caged immigrant children went missing" - Um, you know those pics were taken when the last admin was in power, right? Didn't seem to bother you then...


Geez, you don't seem very shiny or happy, just saying ......


On the contrary...havent been this happy in nearly four years! Now grab your hydroxychloroquine and your MAGA hat and get to the closest rally ASAP! “Where we go one, we go all” PLEASE....all you QANON-ers GO, go, go to the rallies! Toot suite!

Bernie Mac

He also thinks that freedom is dumb. Says all you need to know about shiny's values.

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