Bernie Sanders’ crusade against Amazon reached a tipping point on Wednesday with the introduction of the Stop BEZOS Act, which takes aim at major corporations whose eye-popping profits and revenues come at the expense of workers forced to augment paltry wages with federal assistance.
The bill, entitled Stop Bad Employers By Zeroing Out Subsidies (BEZOS), seeks to levy a tax on these corporations equal to the amount of federal assistance their low-wage workers receive in benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Instead of paying this tax, corporations would be forced to boost wages to levels at which workers would no longer need federal benefits, the thinking goes.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who has been vocal on poverty and labor issues, also supported the newly introduced legislation.
Amazon has found itself in a negative spotlight over the environment in its warehouses, with allegations of harsh conditions, limited access to restrooms and few breaks. Sanders pulled no punches in calling out Jeff Bezos, CEO of the e-commerce juggernaut that just shattered the trillion-dollar market cap threshold.
“It is beyond absurd that you would make more money in 10 seconds than the median employee of Amazon makes in an entire year,” Sanders wrote of Bezos in a petition posted on his website. “Meanwhile, thousands of Amazon employees are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing because their wages are too low.”
The Vermont Senator’s petition, signed by more than 100,000 people, called for Amazon to raise wages and upgrade warehouse working conditions. Bolstered by the popular support, Sanders escalated the effort into Stop BEZOS, though some industry watchers are concerned the effort could actually backfire with unintended consequences.
The former chief economist for vice president Joe Biden and a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Jared Bernstein told Business Insider he’s concerned “that this idea unintentionally provides the hard right with another argument” while cementing the stigma associated with worker benefits.
What’s more, a bill like Stop BEZOS could lead to employers actively sidestepping low-wage candidates who, if hired, would contribute to their tax bill, Bernstein said to Business Insider.
Though Amazon is the company currently under fire, for years Walmart was notorious for paying wages that kept workers on the poverty line. An uproar erupted in 2013 when news broke that a Walmart store in Ohio held a Thanksgiving food drive to benefit its own store employees whose low pay could not provide a traditional holiday meal.