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When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testified before Congress this week, he was asked to answer these questions - does the company use its power to squash competition, and what does that mean for consumers? Well, one group that was largely left out of that conversation were the workers. NPR's Brianna Scott spoke to a few Amazon warehouse employees about that.
BRIANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: For Amazon leader Jeff Bezos, it's always been about the customer. He said so at the Big Tech hearing, virtually, before Congress this week.
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JEFF BEZOS: Customer obsession has driven our success, and I take it as an article of faith that customers notice when you do the right thing.
SCOTT: But some of Amazon's workers say they don't feel like the company does right by them. Rina Cummings has worked at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, N.Y., since 2018 inspecting packages. She says the focus of the hearing this week was off.
RINA CUMMINGS: Part of the conversation needs to be the workers, the people that make him have his millions. Before he gets his money, it's on the backs of everyday people.
SCOTT: Cummings has been vocal over the last few months about what she calls stressful work conditions, especially as COVID-19 rampaged through New York. During that time, reports of the company's leader, Jeff Bezos, making billions made headlines.
CUMMINGS: My job, what I do, I have to do 1,800 packages an hour in a 10-hour shift. It's infuriating that, as an Amazon worker, my CEO of the company that I work for makes billions of dollars, and I just barely can make rent.
SCOTT: Cummings makes $18 an hour, but she says, as a single mother of two, that doesn't cut it. Amazon insists its wages and benefits are very generous compared to many other retailers, and they say they do care about their workers' health. Amazon's COVID-19 blog points out that they've distributed more PPE and cleaning supplies, and they did increase pay temporarily by $2 an hour during the pandemic. But that ended in May. We reached out to Amazon for comment but didn't hear back in time.
DIPAYAN GHOSH: We're giving a huge aggregation of power concentrated within a select few companies.
SCOTT: That's Dipayan Ghosh of Harvard's Kennedy School, who spoke to NPR this week. He used to work at Facebook and has been critical of what the power of the big four tech companies means for workers.
GHOSH: And that really can have poor implications for labor markets, for the distribution of wealth and economic power.
JOHN HOPKINS: It's not just a matter of this sucks and, you know, it's a little bit harder on my body, but it is actually a matter of life and death.
SCOTT: John Hopkins has been working in an Amazon distribution center in San Leandro, Calif., through the pandemic. He sorts packages into the correct van for their delivery route. He was recently suspended from work. Hopkins says his supervisors told him the suspension was because he violated a new Amazon policy that states an employee can't be on site more than 15 minutes before or after a shift. But Hopkins isn't buying it. He thinks it had more to do with him passing out union flyers to his colleagues in the break room after clocking out of his shift for the day.
HOPKINS: Part of the way that Jeff Bezos is making $13 billion in a day is by crushing workers' ability to speak out, to organize with one another because they're union-busting.
SCOTT: Someday, Hopkins says, he wants to start his own tech company, and he has ideas about a better system.
HOPKINS: For me, I think the solution to these problems isn't just breaking up big companies; it's giving workers more power in all companies.
SCOTT: And for warehouse workers John Hopkins and Rina Cummings, putting customers first shouldn't mean that workers have to come last.
Brianna Scott, NPR News, Washington.
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