During the year-long pandemic lockdown, Amazon’s profits rose from mile high to stratospheric. The gargantuan Seattle-based company dominates the market for just about every consumer item sold in the United States. Jeff Bezos, the man at the top, is the richest human being on the planet. Thousands of Amazon headquarters employees are paid well enough to afford the high cost of real estate in the Emerald City.

Yet, down at the level of Amazon warehouses and delivery vans, the picture is markedly different. Workers are paid pretty well – $15 an hour to start – and receive health benefits, but there are endless stories of employees driven to exhaustion and injury while trying to meet extreme productivity goals. And, now, there are the tales of Amazon workers forced to urinate into bottles or bushes because they have no time in their workday to fit in a potty break.

A few days ago, somebody higher up the Amazon chain of command sent out a tweet scoffing at the idea that employees are resorting to embarrassing methods to relieve themselves while on the job, making the claim that Amazon is “the Bernie Sanders of employers.” A chorus of Amazon workers scoffed back, insisting the bathroom issue is uncomfortably real.

Given abundant evidence that a significant number of Amazon’s lower-level employees face onerous expectations in the workplace, it is not likely that Sanders himself would appreciate being made the namesake of the company. Still, in many ways, Amazon is an enlightened business operation. It may be, though, that metrics set for productivity by upper managers in a snazzy Seattle high-rise office building are cruelly unrealistic when enforced out in the warehouses and shipping docks.

Given the vast profits being raked in by Amazon, one wonders why the company does not simply do the obvious thing: hire additional workers, rather than pushing current employees to inhumane limits. 

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