Now, you might be thinking: as horrific as the past year was, some decent people did well too, and not just real-life Monopoly men who smoke cigars saying things like "har-de-blar-blar-I-LOVE-CAPITALISM," right? Alas, the mask-makers, puzzle producers, and liquor store owners, who helped you have your safe little walk around the block to get sloshed while you work on your six-hundredth jigsaw puzzle at home are not the people we're talking about here (Well, unless you buy your puzzles at Amazon, but we'll get to that) …
Whole Foods Are Showing Their Whole Ass
Surprise: The most bougie of all grocery stores is also, in fact, the worst. This past year, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey seemed to challenge himself not to a "Groceries, but make it fashion" scenario, going instead with "Groceries, but make it fascist." The self-described "conscious capitalist" not only doesn't understand oxymorons but apparently also struggles to grasp concepts like basic human decency (… or climate change … or the value of healthcare). Last year, Whole Foods clashed with its employees over hazard pay and sick leave. You know ... last year? The one where we had that global pandemic and the health & safety of workers had never been more paramount or at risk.
Mackey declined to provide Whole Foods employees with more than two weeks of paid sick leave if they contracted COVID-19. As for hazard pay? Well, remember last March when we'd say cute, hopeful stuff like, "This thing will be over by May," and, spoiler: It wasn't? Well, May 2020 is when Whole Foods stopped providing hazard pay to its employees, even though the hazard was decidedly still very, very hazardous.
Don't worry though, Mackey had another plan. He emailed the Whole Foods workforce in March of 2020 with this gem: "Team Members who have a medical emergency or death in their immediate family can receive donated PTO hours, not only from Team Members in their own location, but also from Team Members across the country." A kind of proposal can only come from a true man of the people. Sharing is caring, after all ... but only with your own PTO, not my profits.
Amazon Gonna Amazon
Even less shocking than Whole Foods' inclusion on this list is that of their owner/overlord: Amazon. I literally can only make this piece so long, and your blood can only boil so much. I assume. I'm not a doctor. For now, let's just review accusations of Amazon's behavior in this past year alone:
Across the world, Amazon staff were allegedly forced to work overtime during the pandemic because of the pandemic. As demand for Amazon's products and services soared with people hunkered down and online shopping their way through the pandemic (unfortunately not the cure for anything), so too did the pressure on Amazon workers in increasingly dangerous conditions. As New York Attorney General Letitia James put it in a suit filed against Amazon this past February, Amazon failed to provide sufficient health and safety measures to employees AND continued to track and discipline its employees based on their productivity rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Put another way: Employees work more while a virus rages, but the company apparently won't do enough to protect them from said virus, nor give employees time to try and protect themselves against it. What could go wrong?! A lot.
In October of 2020, Amazon disclosed that nearly 20,000 of their frontline employees (between Amazon and Whole Foods) had contracted COVID-19. Between the fact that there has been no update to this in the past six months and that this disclosure was put forth by Amazon itself, one might assume the actual number is much higher. Between workers suing over warehouse COVID-19 deaths and having been found to be illegally fired and retaliated against for speaking up about unsafe conditions, it's hard to know exactly how many Amazon employees have actually suffered during this. Honestly, we may never know. But what do we know? Amazon's owner, and richest person on Earth, Jeff Bezos, is worth around $200 billion -- his wealth increasing by $75 billion in 2020. Bezos is so rich he could have given each of Amazon's 876,000 employees a $105,000 bonus and still be as wealthy as he was at the onset of the pandemic. But, hey, at least Jeff is "grateful" for the work his employees are doing.
It seems, however, that Amazon workers need much more than Jeff Bezos's gratitude. It looks like they need things like protection, advocacy, and the power to negotiate for better working conditions and other benefits through collective bargaining. In other words: a union. Since 1994, many Amazon employees and many now former Amazon employees (hmm, what could've happened there?) have tried to unionize. However, Amazon has seemingly stepped up their game of proletariat whack-a-mole by allegedly:
– Posting job listings for intelligence analysts to track labor organizing threats
– Seeking out resources to invest in software that analyzes and visualizes data on unions/activism efforts
– Monitoring employee listservs and "closed" Facebook groups deemed potential hotspots for employee activism
-- Tracking Whole Foods employees with a heat map which ranked each store by "greatest risk" of unionizing
C'mon, Jeff; even the Monopoly man gave us a "Chance" and a few extra bucks for passing GO.
Tyson Foods Makes Us Lose Our Appetite
According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, at least 89,246 food system workers (58,321 meatpacking workers, 17,890 food processing workers, and 13,035 farmworkers) have tested positive for COVID-19. US meatpacking companies were pressed for answers on this by US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, who also opened an investigation into the meatpacking industry's behavior in the pandemic. Thankfully, the country's largest meat processing company, Tyson Foods, stuck its neck out (what came first, the chicken or the bad pun?) and responded with a letter advocating against closing its factories, despite overall industry-wide problems.
While meatpacking workers and other food processors already work in very dangerous conditions during non-COVID times, 2020 was a banner year for getting blood, animal and/or human, on their hands. Tyson allegedly offered incentives to keep sick workers on the job, reportedly lied to language interpreters about the dangers of COVID-19 for its immigrant workers, fought health departments in emails over outbreaks in their plants, and have even been sued for racial discrimination.
A lawsuit even claims that managers at one Iowa plant even organized a betting pool around how many of their employees would contract COVID-19. While you might not be a PETA person, if you are a PETP (People for the Ethical Treatment of People) person, this is incredibly disturbing. These Tyson managers were suspended and eventually fired after the family of one deceased employee filed the lawsuit for "fraudulent misrepresentations, gross negligence, and incorrigible, willful and wanton disregard for worker safety." Still, by the end of 2020, Tyson was set to turn a profit and head into 2021 financially robust, despite appearing to be morally bankrupt.
Uline Is Shipping Out Funds To Trash Groups
Yep, the company most known for its tape. Tape, which apparently holds shitty viewpoints together. Wait, what? See, Uline not only reportedly screwed over their own during the pandemic but have also pushed their ideological views on the nation. Uline, which is more wholly a shipping and packaging company (but "shipping and packaging company" wasn't as snappy for the opening of this paragraph), is owned by billionaire far-right conservatives Richard and Liz Uihlein. When they're not busy saying coronavirus is "overhyped" -- while their workforce tests positive for COVID-19 at a hugely disproportionate rate to the rest of the population -- the Uihelins have been busy being top donors to Trump and other Republican candidates & causes. This includes the nearly $4.3 million they've given in the past five years to the political action committee Tea Party Patriots. This includes $800,000 alone in October of 2020.
What have those jolly Tea Party Patriots been up to since then? Ooooh, I have a feeling you know their work. Yes, they participated in the "March to Overthrow Democracy." Whoops, sorry, it's actually the "March to Save America," also known as January's deadly Capitol insurrection. While the funding sources for the march are not publicly known, the Tea Party Patriots were among 11 groups listed as part of the "#StopTheSteal coalition" on the "rally's" website before it was taken down.
Squire Patton Boggs Are Shady Even For Rich Lawyers
With all this corruption, thank goodness we have people advocating and fighting in the courts on behalf of people in need ... lol j/k. Stunningly, it turns out that Squire Patton Boggs, one of the world's largest and wealthiest law firms, has remained on retainer for the Saudi Center for Studies and Media Affairs -- a contract that was signed by Mohammed bin Salman. In case you forgot who bin Salman is, in February, the US government assessed that the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia personally approved the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi:
We all know the legal world can be cut-throat, but they're working for a guy that seems to have literally had someone's throat cut ... and their body dismembered. As Ben Freeman of the International Center for Policy said while questioning Squire Patton Boggs' continued work with the Saudi Kingdom after Khashoggi's murder: "When the US government says the exact person who signed a lobbying contract with your firm is one of the people responsible for Khashoggi's gruesome murder, how do you sleep at night?"
Therein lies the question for the leaders of all these companies and many more like them. How do you sleep at night? It might seem like a difficult question, but I fear the real answer might be the same from them all: "Easily ... on a bed of money in a Scrooge McDuck-ian vault."
Top image: Julie Clopper/Shutterstock