In a Huffington Post op-ed Friday, Washington Post travel writer Frederick Kunkle accused the paper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, of putting his charity efforts ahead of his employees.
But as Bezos, whose worth now exceeds $80 billion, loosens his pockets, it’s important to put his charitable giving — and the philanthropy of the super-rich — into perspective: Many people worked hard for Bezos to help make him so rich, and he has a record of treating them poorly.
Kunkle is co-chair of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild’s bargaining unit at the Post, so it should be no surprise he would be among those most likely to be concerned about employee pay and working conditions.
In June, Kunkle noted that Bezos issued a tweet to gather ideas on what his philanthropic strategy should be.
Request for ideas… pic.twitter.com/j6D68mhseL
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) June 15, 2017
Kunkle says Bezos has a darker side when it comes to his employees.
Amazon’s history of dodging taxes, its mistreatment of workers, and its ruthlessness toward even the smallest competitors have been well documented. It put ambulances outside distribution centers rather than install adequate air conditioning. It broke up a union organizing effort by closing the call center and dismissing everyone who worked there. The New York Times documented its punishing work environment in a front-page exposé. The company’s actions, as Forbes put it, hark back to an earlier time when workers were treated as “replaceable cogs in the machine.”
Kunkle said while he is grateful Bezos bankrolled the revival of the Post, Bezos is guilty of slashing benefits and trying to make it easier to fire employees regardless of performance or years of service — reminding the billionaire owner who helped create his wealth.
But as with other multi-billionaires, Bezos should remember that his vast wealth came in part from labor, and he should do more to share that wealth with workers. As the owner of an institution that’s critical to democracy, he should go out of his way to set a tone of progressive stewardship toward employees in all his businesses.
Instead, Bezos has shown that he views his employees as parts in a high-tech machine, that income inequality is someone else’s problem, and that modern corporations owe little more to their employees than a paycheck.
But that doesn’t mean Bezos should just pour money into the Post without regard to sound business principles.
The Post, like every other newspaper in the country, has seen advertising drop precipitously in the last decade as the Internet took hold and readers abandon the printed page in favor of digital publications.