Following a scheduled 25-minute tour of the packing floor of a one-million-square-foot Amazon fulfillment warehouse in Chattanooga, Tenn., President Obama made a speech on Tuesday that the White House press office described as “the first in a series of policy speeches” that the Obama administration is calling “a better bargain for the middle class.” Obama’s speech, during a scheduled 90-minute stop at Amazon’s warehouse, was to focus on, the White House said, his proposals to “jumpstart” private sector job growth and to strengthen the manufacturing sector.
As Obama prepared to leave the White House on Tuesday morning, controversy continued to swirl among the nation’s independent booksellers about the visit to Amazon’s Chattanooga facility, which employs 1,700 workers. While starting salaries for “fulfillment associates” at Amazon’s Chattanooga warehouse could not be confirmed, a job listing posted Tuesday on Amazon.com advertised positions at $11/hour, plus benefits, for full-time workers in the company’s Murfreesboro, Tenn., fulfillment warehouse, 100 miles away.
To date, the American Booksellers Association and two regional booksellers associations, the New England Independent Booksellers Association and the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, have weighed in on the matter with letters sent to the White House.
The ABA wrote in their letter to Obama that for the president to talk up jobs and the economy at an Amazon facility, and to praise the company as a job creator is “woefully misguided.”
Amazon’s business practices, the ABA explained, “are actually harming small businesses and the American economy.” Referring to Amazon’s announcement Monday that it is hiring 5,000 employees in 17 fulfillment centers and another 2,000 full-time, part-time, and seasonal workers in four customer service centers, the ABA alleged that Amazon has caused the loss of many jobs, due to driving out of business numerous small businesses that can’t compete with Amazon’s heavily discounted prices. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the ABA pointed out, for every $10 million that shifts from bricks-and-mortar stores to Amazon.com, 33 retail jobs are lost.
“That would mean, for 2012 alone, Amazon cost the U.S. 42,000 jobs just last year,” the ABA wrote, also pointing out that Amazon.com “has flouted sales tax laws” and “negatively impacted state budgets and services, as well as those of local communities.”
Piling on with their own letters to the President, those from the two regional booksellers organizations were considerably sharper and more pointed than the ABA’s tactfully-worded communication. NEIBA demanded to know, “What is the thinking behind this decision? . . . [Amazon's] business model is based on fighting those states that have required them to collect and remit sales tax while driving Main Street brick and mortar stores out of business through predatory pricing.”
“We cannot believe this is your vision of job creation and the future of American middle class,” wrote NAIBA. “We would hope your administration would be standing with Main Street, and investigating the monopolistic practices of Amazon, rather than explicitly or tacitly endorsing those practices.”
While the ABA suggested that Obama meet with them and other “real job creators” over a cup of coffee at his favorite local independent bookstore, both NEIBA and NAIBA urged Obama to “rethink using Amazon as a beacon of hope” in his “Better Bargain for the Middle Class” policy speech. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” they each concluded.
Scores of independent booksellers and others in the book publishing industry have, by their accounts, deluged the White House with emails criticizing Obama’s visit to an Amazon facility to talk about job creation for middle-class workers. None of the booksellers, publishers' reps, and authors contacted by PW have received to date any response from the White House to their concerns about today's visit.