Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on Tuesday successfully completed an 11-minute trip into space onboard a rocket built by his company Blue Origin. Donning a blue suit and a cowboy hat, Bezos addressed a conference after his brief trip into space, during which he thanked the workers of Amazon for “paying” for his trip. However, the well-intended gratitude has failed to resonate with critics who have accused the billionaire of being “tone-deaf”.
“I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this,” the 57-year-old Bezos said during a news conference, after becoming the second billionaire in just over a week to ride in his own spacecraft. The statement immediately stirred a backlash on the internet as people pointed out reports claiming inhumane working conditions and lack of breaks that Amazon workers are forced to work under.
Former secretary of labour and a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, Robert Reich wrote that Bezos has crushed unionising attempts for decades. “Amazon workers don’t need Bezos to thank them. They need him to stop union-busting — and pay them what they deserve,” Reich said on Twitter.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also criticised Bezos saying, “Yes, Amazon workers did pay for this – with lower wages, union busting, a frenzied and inhumane workplace, and delivery drivers not having health insurance during a pandemic.” She also added, “Amazon customers are paying for it with Amazon abusing their market power to hurt small business.”
“Jeff Bezos forgot to thank all the hardworking Americans who actually paid taxes to keep this country running while he and Amazon paid nothing,” wrote US Senator Elizabeth Warren on the micro-blogging site.
“It’s time for Jeff Bezos to take care of business right here on Earth and pay his fair share in taxes,” she also said.
Meanwhile, Representative Earl Blumenauer, who is on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, proposed legislation that would tax space travel for non-scientific research purposes. “Space exploration isn’t a tax-free holiday for the wealthy,” said, adding, “We pay taxes on plane tickets. Billionaires flying into space—producing no scientific value—should do the same.”
Bezos stepped down as the chief executive officer (CEO) of e-commerce giant Amazon earlier this month to focus on side projects including his space exploration company Blue Origin. However, time and time again he has faced increasing activism within his own workforce for gruelling working hours.
Several Amazon workers have also spoken about the lack of break times and how the company puts too much reliance on rigid productivity metrics and has unsafe working conditions. Earlier this year, an effort to unionise workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama failed. The workers have alleged that Amazon broke the law with some of its anti-union activity before and during the warehouse voting.
Meanwhile, Bezos has said that he financed the rocket company by selling $1 billion in Amazon stock each year.