Net worth: $110.5B (Forbes, March 2020)
Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, and the current owner of Whole Foods and The Washington Post.
Details about Bezos’s early personal life are murky. Born Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen in 1964, Bezos changed his name to that of his adopted father Miguel "Mike" Bezos, a petroleum engineer for Exxon Mobil. Bezos Graduated from Princeton with a BS in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.
The vast majority of Bezos’s fortune comes from Amazon, a company he started in 1993 with a dream and a $300,000 loan from his parents. The genesis of Amazon came from the realization that an online book retailer would be relatively simple to operate within the constraints of the early internet. The company was based out of Seattle due to the city’s large population of software engineers and its proximity to Roseburg, Oregon, which had the largest book warehouse in the country at the time.
As of 2019, Amazon had approximately 750,000 employees with typical employment conditions ranging from bad to terrible. The median tenure of an Amazon employee is 1 year.
At the corporate level, where a minority of Amazon employees work, there is a cultivated culture of precarity. Every year Amazon eliminates their lowest-performing employees and there is an internal "Anytime Feedback Tool" that allows the more ambitious and less scrupulous employees to report on the underperformance of their coworkers. Similarly, cancer and miscarriages have been known to lead to performance improvement plans. 85 hour workweeks are not unknown.
At the warehouse level, where the majority of Amazon employees work, conditions are much worse.
On a daily basis, warehouse employees can walk 15 to 20 miles on hard concrete floors over a 12 hour shift. OHSA regularly fines Amazon for safety violations in its warehouses, despite continued efforts to underreport injuries. One such effort includes a policy directing employees to contact internal security before 911 in the event of an injury.
Many employees at Amazon warehouses are not direct employees of Amazon but are contracted out and therefore ineligible for Amazon benefits. Many of these employees are lured into those jobs for seasonal work increases and later laid off by voicemail. Others discover unemployment by their warehouse badges being deactivated upon arrival.
Amazon warehouses also require employees to go through unpaid security checks when entering and leaving the premises that typically last 25 minutes. A class-action lawsuit was brought against Amazon by warehouse employees which made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The court unanimously ruled against the employees, clarifying what it means to be a progressive on the United States Supreme Court.
Amazon is also not above hiring a neo-Nazi security firm. In February 2013, an Amazon warehouse in Germany hired a company called HESS Security, the name being a reference to Hitler’s deputy Rudolph Hess. The purpose of hiring this particular security company was to intimidate immigrant workers, with HESS employees going so far as to break into the residence of one immigrant worker who had complained about warehouse conditions and demanded that she leave her home, shining a spotlight into her window while she was effectively evicted. Once this story became public, Amazon stated that they did not hire HESS Security. They did however take credit for firing HESS Security.
Jeff Bezos does a good deal of work to distance himself from these incidents, but with a hundred billion dollar empire, the responsibility ultimately lies with the man who controls that empire.
The Former And Current Employees (FACE) of Amazon ((Employee Activist Site))Site run by current and former Amazon employees about abuses at Amazon.
Unfulfilled promises ((Economic Policy Institute))A study detailing the inability of Amazon fulfillment centers to generate broad-based employment growth.
Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace (New York Times)Article on the conditions of working at Amazon Corporate.
Inside Amazon's Warehouse (The Morning Call)Article detailing conditions at an Amazon warehouse circa 2011.
The Life and Death of an Amazon Warehouse Temp (Huffington Post)In-depth article about the conditions surround the death of an Amazon warehouse contract worker.