These have been tough times for the world’s formerly richest man — Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos — and it has nothing to do with his divorce settlement that cost him a whopping $38 billion payout to his ex-wife McKenzie Bezos.
I don’t care about Bezos’ private life and neither should you, but have you noticed that his public company is falling apart? Consumers, warehouse workers, tech workers, big-time politicians – everyone is mad right now at the tech giant that Bezos founded in 1994, and they have very good reasons for striking back at his monopoly.
Last week was the biggest on Amazon’s calendar, the two-day extravaganza that’s still called Amazon Prime Day and serves as a kind of Christmas in July for the world’s largest online retailer. But scores of workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Minnesota that workers call “the meat grinder” — because of the enormous pressure to meet Amazon’s demands for speed that cause stress, exhaustion and physical injuries — walked off the job.
“The Amazon experience is horrible,” Hibaq Mohamed, one of the striking workers (many of them Somali immigrants) told The Verge website. “We are like a machine, like robots. The rate” – Amazon’s computerized tracking of worker speed — “keeps increasing and increasing and increasing.”
In San Francisco, immigrant rights groups protested Bezos and Amazon over the company’s work for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which is supposed to begin large scale raids in immigrant communities from coast to coast. The company refused to even allow a petition with 270,000 signatures urging Amazon to sever its ties with ICE inside the building. Amazon employees also complained in an internal letter.
And politically, Bezos and his company are facing pressure for their monopolistic practices from the European Union to the United States. On Capitol Hill, Amazon’s associate general counsel tried to convince unbelieving House members that Amazon doesn’t use information from third-party vendors to its own competitive advantage. And Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren — who has threatened to use the power of the federal government to break up Amazon and other technology giants — is rising fast in the polls.
Amazon’s wounds are mostly self-inflicted, and most can be placed to the bad management of Bezos, who has lost control of the beast that he created. Customer service and quality — which were once what made the Seattle-based company so successful — have dropped off dramatically. And yet Amazon and its founder have managed to grow more and more arrogant.
As I reported here earlier this month, my law partner – Barry J. Cooper Jr. – and I are taking Amazon to court over a bizarre incident in which Cooper’s account was hacked, roughly $9,000 worth of “virtual assault rifles” were purchased by the hacker from a wholly owned Amazon subsidiary here, and since then — instead of going after the hackers — Amazon has harassed Cooper for payment for the fraudulent purchase.
To add insult to injury, Amazon then not only blocked the account of Cooper – the victim of the crime, not the perpetrator — but even blocked my access to the website, because I am “associated with a closed account.” (You can read here about our case against Amazon for its data breach that compromised Cooper’s privacy and for its clear-cut violations of state and local fair-trade laws.)
It all sounds like something out of George Orwell’s “1984,” and now there are some new developments in the case which show that Amazon’s arrogance and Bezos’ failures of leadership over his own company are getting worse by the day.
Amazon continues to refuse to have a simple conversation with either Cooper and myself about resolving the matter — an issue that could probably be hashed out in two or three minutes. Instead, the company hired lawyers in New Orleans asked for an extension and when we refused to grant it, they said that they will see us in court.
The vanity of Amazon in wanting to fight this out before a judge rather than admit that the company made a mistake and work to quickly resolve the matter has had other consequences. Because our access to Amazon’s website is completely blocked, neither Cooper nor I have any way to gather the information we need to reconcile our accounts.
As a result, we’ve had to go to our credit card companies and block any outstanding charges that we have with Amazon, since we have no way of confirming what those charges were for or whether the products were actually delivered. A company that prides itself on its transparency has become completely opaque, shutting us out of any and all information. That feels to us like a metaphor for 25 years of Amazon slowly becoming an inscrutable, power-mad monster.
The last few days have convinced me, however, that the world is coming to learn what Cooper and I have experienced personally: That Jeff Bezos and his invention are spiraling out of control. It’s his choice whether he rights the ship or needs to buckle up for a crash landing.