Retail giant Amazon is publicly clashing with senators in what Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) described as "snotty tweets."
After Warren tweeted her frustration at the amount Amazon pays in taxes, the company's official news account responded, "You make the tax laws @SenatorWarren, we just follow them." Warren answered that she would "fight to break up Big Tech so you're not powerful enough to heckle senators with snotty tweets."
Amazon faces increased congressional scrutiny for antitrust concerns and poor labor conditions at its warehouses, both from left-wing senators and from Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.). This pressure might restrain smaller companies from brawling with politicians in public, but Amazon seems unfazed. It's a mark of its power in Washington: In 2020, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Amazon spent almost $19 million on lobbying federal officials, second only to Facebook among tech companies, and coming in ahead of major Washington players like Boeing and Northrop Grumman.
Warren is not the only Democratic politician to clash with Amazon, which is confronting a major unionization effort at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. Rep. Mark Pocan (Wis.) said Amazon shouldn't claim it's a "progressive workplace" when it union-busts and "makes workers urinate in water bottles." Amazon responded, "You don't really believe the peeing in water bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us."
There is widely available documentation of Amazon contractors peeing in water bottles to avoid having to take additional time away from the job. An Intercept story revealed internal emails showing Amazon is aware drivers pee in bottles and even defecate en route.
At the warehouse in Bessemer where the unionization drive is occurring, workers have expressed concerns over harsh performance metrics that penalize too many uses of the bathroom in a day.
Amazon has aggressively opposed the attempts to unionize, which have drawn national attention. Amazon has placed anti-union ads on Twitch and in warehouse bathroom stalls and asked the National Labor Relations Board to mandate only in-person voting.
The e-commerce giant also clashed with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who is visiting Bessemer. "If you want to hear about $15 an hour and health care, Senator Sanders will be speaking downtown," said Amazon's consumer chief. "But if you would like to make at least $15 an hour and have good health care, Amazon is hiring."
Amazon's public messaging strategy has been noteworthy for its brazenness. In previous controversies, the company has often avoided communicating with its critics. But its approach to the recent spat with senators reflects a trend among big tech companies. In a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday, big tech CEOs took a more forceful tone. While on the stand, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey tweeted a "yes or no" poll with no question attached, a dig at representatives who he felt had asked inane questions.