Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Sunday criticized Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' status as a billionaire, saying the way the businessman may have attained his status as the world's richest man could, in part, be a result of paying workers “starvation wages” and limiting their ability to access health care benefits.
“When you have a very large workforce and you underpay every single person and then you also participate in taking billions of dollars of government subsidies, that could be part of it,” Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, regarding how she believes Bezos attained his wealth.
Ocasio-Cortez has criticized the wealth status of the top earners in the U.S. previously, agreeing in January that a system that allows for billionaires is immoral, though noting that not all billionaires themselves are immoral.
“Whether Jeff Bezos is a billionaire or not is less of my concern than if your average Amazon worker is making a living wage, if they have guaranteed health care and if they can send their kids to college tuition-free,” she said Sunday. “And if that’s the case, and Jeff Bezos is still a billionaire, that’s one thing.”
It’s not the first time the freshman congresswoman has criticized Bezos or Amazon, the e-commerce giant he founded in 1994. Arguably the most notable incident was Ocasio-Cortez’s disapproval of Amazon building a second headquarters in New York City. The company, which was considering building its “HQ2” in the Long Island City neighborhood of the Queens borough, canceled its plans after facing fierce opposition from some residents and lawmakers, including Ocasio-Cortez.
“When you actually try to extract the details of this deal, all of a sudden the math got really fuzzy and it felt, to the community, that the details were falling apart,” Ocasio-Cortez told Fox News in February.
Concerns were also triggered by the tax breaks and subsidies Amazon – one of the world’s most valuable companies by market cap – would be given for building its second headquarters in New York. Last year, Amazon did not pay a single dollar in federal income taxes despite nearly doubling its profit from 2017 ($5.6 billion to $11.2 billion), according to a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
“If he’s willing to give up all of his government subsidies, if we’re willing to charge fair taxes, if we’re willing to pay people a living wage, send people to college tuition-free, guarantee everyone health care and he’s still a billionaire, then that’s a fight we can have another day,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
An Amazon spokesperson respond to the congresswoman's comments, saying:
“These allegations are absurd. Amazon associates receive industry-leading pay starting at $15 an hour – in fact, hourly associates at our Staten Island facility earn between $17.30 and $23 an hour, plus benefits which include comprehensive medical, dental, and vision insurance. On top of these benefits, Amazon pre-pays 95% of continuing education tuition costs through its Career Choice program for associates who want to pursue in-demand careers. For anyone who wants to know what it's like to work in an Amazon fulfillment center, sign up for a tour today."