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Sen. Sanders introduces Stop BEZOS Act aimed at big companies paying low wages

By Ray Downs
Sen. Sanders introduces Stop BEZOS Act aimed at big companies paying low wages
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks with Disneyland Resort employees at the River Church Arena in Anaheim, California on June 2. Sanders has recently taken aim at large companies who don't pay many employees a living wage and introduced a bill on Wednesday to impose a tax on companies whose employees need federal benefits to make ends meet. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Wednesday introduced a bill that would impose a corporate welfare tax on large companies whose employees need federal benefits to make ends meet.

The Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act targets companies with more than 500 employees, including part-time workers and contractors, by imposing a tax equal to the amount of money employees use in federal benefits, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, school lunch programs and Section 8 housing.

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For example, if an employee receives $1,000 in federal assistance, the employer will be charged that amount as a tax.

The bill makes it illegal for the company to ask employees if they receive or qualify for federal assistance and leaves it to the Internal Revenue Service, in consultation with other federal agencies, to determine the amount of the tax.

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Sanders, along with co-sponsor Ro Khanna, D-Calif., introduced the bill one day after Amazon hit the $1 trillion valuation mark. And the Stop BEZOS Act is an unsubtle reference to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, whose company has been criticized for not paying many employees a living wage while also using independent contractors for its delivery services.

"Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the wealthiest person on earth," Sanders said in a statement. "Today, his net worth is $168 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Since the beginning of this year, his wealth has increased by about $260 million -- every single day. Meanwhile, Mr. Bezos continues to pay many thousands of his Amazon employees wages that are so low that they must rely on food stamps, Medicaid or public housing in order to survive. Programs that are financed by middle class taxpayers."

Sanders' office pointed out a report by the New Food Economy, which found 1 out of 3 Amazon workers in Arizona and about 2,400 employees in Pennsylvania and Ohio receive food stamps.

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Other large companies mentioned as reasons for the bill included Walmart, which "pays its associates wages so low that many of them are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing to survive at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of an estimated $6.2 billion a year," Sanders' office said.

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"The Walton family of Walmart owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans," Sanders said Wednesday. "Walmart, just like Amazon, pays its workers' wages that are so inadequate that many of them are forced to depend upon public assistance programs in order to survive."

According to a 2015 study by the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center, American taxpayers pay $152.8 billion each year on federal assistance to employees of large companies who pay workers low wages.

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Sanders has been vocal about his criticisms of Amazon and together large companies for years. But last week, Amazon responded by asking employees to tell the Vermont Senator "your truth."

Some of those letters were published Wednesday on Amazon's corporate blog on Wednesday.

A 61-year-old employee identified as "Gerald" in Lakeland, Fla. said he believes he has been paid fairly and qualifies for three weeks of vacation per year and plenty of overtime opportunities.

"I think where your criticism is skewed is by not understanding our business," Gerald wrote. "Amazon is very clear with all new hires that the work is demanding and at times highly repetitive. Unfortunately, there are many people who believe they can make the cut and don't."

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