Just recently, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy made an announcement that massive cuts to staff were coming across the board. “Amazon has weathered uncertain and difficult economies in the past, and we will continue to do so,” Jassy wrote in a memo after an employee leaked the plans, prompting him to make a public announcement.
The reasons behind the mass job cuts are being blamed on a little bit of everything according to the memo; inflation, buyers being more conservative to spend money, supply chain delays, and labor shortages caused by the pandemic, are all being pointed to as contributing factors for the large scale layoffs. CNBC recently reported that Amazon has cited “slowing sales growth, rising expenses and a worsening economic outlook.”
However, at the same time Amazon is cutting its’ human workforce, it’s highly focused on its brand new fully automated facilities.
Considering that Amazon didn’t announce its plans to cut 18,000 staff until its’ hand was forced by a leaked memo, one begins to wonder… is Amazon is being completely transparent as to the reasons behind the mass layoffs?
What we know for sure:
1. Amazon is building Robotic facilities
At the same time 18,000 workers are being given the shocking and devastating news they will soon be out of employment, Amazon is proudly showcasing its newest and most advanced robotics facility which recently opened in Barrhaven Ontario.
“Today is a huge milestone for Amazon as we celebrate the opening of our most technologically advanced robotics facility in the country,” said Harsh Khaitan Amazon Canada’s regional director of operations. “We’re thrilled to expand.” Khaitan goes on to explain that by combining computer vision with artificial intelligence (AI), Sparrow, a state-of-the-art Robot, can recognize and handle millions of items.This facility is the first of five new Amazon centers being built, and hosts over five thousand robots which will do scanning, sorting, and moving.
Scanning, sorting and moving… aren’t those things Amazon employees do?
2. Attempts to unionize in recent years have increased
Attempts to unionize Amazon warehouse workers across the US, including in Albany, New York, and Oklahoma have increased over the last few years. Wages, job security and safety concerns were some of the reasons cited by the workers who where behind the push to form a union.
It seems workers and Amazon execs are both aware of the need to look at safety concerns and injury prevention- they just have vastly different ideas about how to solve them. Whereas workers have made attempts to form unions, Khaitan said, “By using robots, we can help employees with tasks that involve heavy lifting or repetitive movements…we pilot and implement technology with the goal of increasing safety.”
The New York Times wrote a provocative piece in spring 2021 called, “How Amazon Crushes Unions”, exploring how Amazon used a wide range of tactics to prevent workers from unionizing.
3. Amazon’s had some questionable practices in the past
After a fire broke out at the Staten Island Warehouse, the only unionized Amazon in the US, the whole building was evacuated for safety reasons. According to Connor Spence, Secretary Treasurer for the Amazon Labor Union, workers that came in for the night shift where not informed about what had happened, and many members were having difficulty breathing, as the building still reeked of smoke. The union advocated for the night staff to be sent home with full pay, rather than to continue to work in unsafe conditions.
Amazon responded by suspending those workers without pay, CNN reported.
Is it sheer coincidence that at the same time Amazon is firing massive amounts of staff, they are also building state of the art facilities where robots do the same jobs humans used to do?
I’m sincerely asking this question.
Perhaps its because its 2023, and I’ve learned not to take anything at face value anymore. I’ll admit, I may be looking for discrepancies where there aren’t any, and I need to keep in mind that correlation is not causation. However, I have to acknowledge I’ve got that, “Things that make you go hmmm…” feeling.
It would be easy to simply paint Amazon as a tech-powered authoritarian villain, but it would also be lazy. Amazon has introduced numerous technological innovations that have helped businesses increase efficiencies. Plus, Amazon is a corporation, and not a charity. I’m not naïve, capitalism and corporations are pretty open about their main drive, making profits. In the 1987 film Wall Street, character Gordon Gekko proudly states, “Greed, for the lack of the better word, is good.” Its reported that Gekko is based on multiple real-life individuals on Wall Street.
However, it’s 2023, and there’s some big impacts to having “Greed is Good” as the unofficial motto for capitalism.
“If Corporations were people, they’d have the personality of a Psychopath.”
In the award winning film, based on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, writer and director Joel Bakan, explores the nature and astonishing rise of the dominant and influential institutions of our time. When a company becomes a corporation, its essentially changing its’ legal status to “person”. There are many reasons a company may do this, tax rates are lower, financing and grants are easier to access, but the big bonus is that owners are much more protected from liability.
The Corporation takes a intriguing look at what kind of person a corporation would be. Taking its status as a “legal person”, the film puts corporations on the psychiatrist’s couch, asking “What kind of person would it be?” As it turns out, the answer is psychotic.
I had the pleasure to interview The Corporation co-director Mark Achbar several years ago. Achbar said the idea for adapting the book into a film came to him while he was working on another project featuring Noam Chomsky called “Manufacturing Consent.” Achbar shared with me something Chomsky told him, “He was asked ‘How do you make the media more democratic?’ He (Chomsky) answered ‘That’s like asking how do you make corporations more democratic? You don’t, you get rid of them.’”
I’m not sure I agree that all corporations need to go in order for democracy to be present, there are several good models of larger businesses who garner vast returns, but also practice honesty, fairness, and are not destroying the environment just to make a buck.
So what’s the problem? Hypocrisy.
My grandmother, a 60’s Scoop survivor, had a great expression; “Don’t piss in my ear and tell me it’s raining.” Crude, and yet, poignant.
If you are going to replace workers with robots because it’s cheaper than paying for injuries, easier than dealing with unions, and less costly in the long run than paying salary increases – just be honest about it.
In almost every news story announcing the new Robotic facilities, the articles end with a statement about how they are investing in employees and creating jobs. Newswire wrote “As part of its mission to become Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work, Amazon provides full-time operations employees with access to educational opportunities through upskilling programs.” Although true, it’s rather misleading.
I’m not sure you can call yourself, “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work” when you lay off staff for not wanting to work in a smoke filled building. Clapping yourself on the back for potentially creating more than 2,500 jobs, while axing 18,000 workers, is as embarrassing as an amateur children’s magician using misdirection in a bad magic show. Buddy, sorry to tell you, but we all see the bird up your sleeve.
“We are living in troubled times. The truth is being massively distorted on a scale heretofore unknown. Humanity is susceptible to large media and those who are really adept at utilizing large media to service their own selfish agendas are leveraging every aspect of the persuasive nature of media to propagate those lies.” Brian Weiner (2022) wrote in, A truth does not mind being questioned. A lie does not like being challenged.
Whenever calling someone out for hypocrisy, one needs to check their own house first. Let me be clear, I’m not anti-corporation, and although I do try to make an effort to buy local and support more independent retailers, I have a Prime membership, and like millions of other people, I’ve enjoyed the many convenient benefits of Amazon.
In my personal experience, Amazon has amazing customer service, and I’ve always had great interactions when I’ve called in. Perhaps that’s why I’m motivated to write about this; my humanity wants to support the real people working for a company. In my experience, the back bone of any company is its’ staff, and I’m honestly saddened to hear that so many people are now facing the hardship of losing their jobs.
I truly believe at a fundamental level that where we focus our energy massively affects not only our state of mind, but also our experience of reality. I like to focus on solutions and middle-ground approaches; what do we have in common? let’s build from there. However, to make impactful, lasting solutions, which aren’t just band-aids or pretty PR words, we need access to the full scope of the problem. There’s a vast difference between ignorance (willfully ignoring the truth) and nescience (not having access to the truth).
Perhaps it comes from hard life experiences as we age, or perhaps it’s due to an innate intuition and an overall vibe we get, but people can tell when something is not on the level. It’s honestly much better to be transparent in the first place; as once we sense something is being withheld and feel we are being gaslighted, we start to question everything about that company or person.
Mark Twain famously said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” There’s freedom in this. We don’t always get it right the first time, and we need to be allowed space to do better without fear of being cancelled. But doubling down on mistakes is all about the ego, and that’s not the way forward either.
I think we can all agree that as a species we have some big issues to solve on this planet. We are all being invited and challenged to take stock of ourselves on multiple fronts; whether that’s on a personal micro-level, or on a macro- level, such as with a corporation. Humans are capable of amazing feats of innovation and creativity; however we cannot expect things to get better if we don’t change the harmful practices which led to the problem in the first place. Before we can move out of denial, and step up to the plate, we first need Truth.
An avid book reader, Angela Waterfield is new to the world of e-Readers. She has a background in education, emergency response, and fitness, and loves to be outside. She has contributed writing to The London Free Press, The Gazette, The Londoner, Lifeliner, and Citymedia.ca.