A few years after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, he said it was because it “is the newspaper in the capital city of the most important country in the world” and “has an incredibly important role to play in this democracy.”
Now, with more and more legislators scrutinizing his company’s business practices, his newspaper is playing that role — as an advertising platform in defense of Amazon.
On Tuesday, hours after the Washington Post reported that the DC attorney general is bringing an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon, the front page of the Post’s website was festooned with native ads from Amazon portraying itself as a devoted supporter of a higher federal minimum wage.
The Post ads, which appeared almost like editorial content, are part of a broader campaign by Amazon highlighting its support for a $15 minimum wage. Left unsaid: Amazon only begrudgingly agreed to a higher wage for its own workers after serious public shaming.
The company has also continued to bankroll corporate lobbying groups that are leading the fight against a minimum wage hike, and the Washington Post editorial board has campaigned against a $15 wage.
“We Listened to Our Critics”
Amazon’s ad spending with the newspaper is nothing new: The company has disclosed spending $40.5 million with the Washington Post since 2013 on advertising and digital content, including $8.1 million last year, according to its proxy statements.
The company’s latest ad on the Post homepage was designed to make the tech giant look progressive in advance of the company’s annual meeting on Wednesday and the news that it’s acquiring legendary film studio MGM.
If you were casually glancing at the Post page Tuesday, you may not have realized the Amazon language was an advertisement, since portions of it were included in the Washington Post masthead banner.
Text boxes in the banner said: “Since 2018, Amazon has paid at least $15/hour. It’s time to raise the $7.25 federal minimum wage.” Corey Quinn, chief cloud economist at The Duckbill Group, noted Tuesday that “these ads aren’t clearly marked as ads, and that crosses a line.”
A graphic below the banner did at least contain the Amazon logo. It also featured two women in Miami saying: “Bigger paychecks made it possible for Mom and me to get a bigger place.”
Of course, as the Washington Post headline noted when Amazon announced it would raise its minimum wage to $15, it did so “following criticism” — most prominently from Sen. Bernie Sanders who launched a petition to Bezos in August 2018, demanding that he pay his workers “a living wage and improve working conditions at Amazon warehouses all across the country.”
Sanders also introduced the “Stop BEZOS Act,” legislation to put a 100 percent tax on government benefits received by workers at large companies, after a report by the New Food Economy found that thousands of Amazon workers were on food stamps.
When Amazon announced it would raise its wages, Bezos acknowledged the pressure campaign the company was facing: “We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” he said. “We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”
Amazon has been lobbying Congress and the White House on the minimum wage and “the Raise the Wage Act” — but the company still funds lobbying groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable that are actively opposing a $15 minimum wage.
Although Amazon has boosted its wages, many company employees still work under difficult, hazardous conditions. Amazon warehouse workers say they are managed by computer algorithms and expected to meet impossible quotas. Injury rates are high. And Amazon is well aware that its delivery drivers often end up urinating in bottles because of absurd quotas imposed by management.
Amazon’s $15 minimum wage push may make the company look munificent, but it’s still one of the most exploitative employers on the planet.
The Post’s Crusade Against a $15 Minimum Wage
While Amazon is now using the Washington Post to push its minimum wage PR, Bezos’s paper doesn’t even support a $15 minimum wage.
In February, the Post editorial board wrote a column expressing concern about Democrats’ “Raise the Wage Act,” which would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 and eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers.
“We do not say this to oppose an increase in the federal minimum,” they wrote, before warning that the Raise the Wage Act would “impose significant costs on low-income Americans.”
The column said “that the Sanders-backed proposal would create a structural increase in the cost of low-skilled labor,” and would thus encourage employers to automate more jobs — something that happens already.
The Post editorial board suggested that Democrats could raise the wage to $15 over a longer timeframe or “calibrate the minimum wage based on regional economic factors,” concluding that “Congress should proceed to a new minimum wage — but with caution.”
In March, after Democrats removed the minimum wage measure from their COVID-19 relief bill, the Post editorial board opined that “Democrats should get to work on a more modest raise,” warning again about “the job-destroying potential of going to $15 everywhere in the country by 2025.”