John Oliver ripped Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos on Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight” over its policies for “essential workers” who are still packing and shipping “essential items” out to customers during the coronavirus pandemic — because not all of them are what most people would consider “essential.”
“Companies who employee essential workers have openly waxed poetic about how much they value them. Few in more glowing terms than Amazon,” the HBO late-night host said before rolling an ad made by the e-commerce giant to thank its employees.
The spot showed Amazon employees at work, while a voiceover said: “To all of our Amazon retail heroes on the floor, in the air, and behind the wheel, we want to thank you. We’ll continue to do everything we can to keep you healthy, safe and protected. The work you are doing means everything right now. Thank you.”
“It’s hard to say what I like least about that,” Oliver said. “Maybe it’s the schmaltzy piano music. Maybe it’s Amazon patronizingly claiming they care about the wellbeing of their ‘heroes.’ Or maybe it’s just the fact that out of context the Amazon smile logo is a quick sketch of a circumcised dick. It’s probably a combination of all three.”
“And while the company claims it’s keeping workers safe by distributing masks and conducting temperature checks, many Amazon workers paint a much different picture, citing ‘an inability to maintain social distancing guidelines, a lack of protective gear and hand sanitizer and lack of time to clean their hands,'” Oliver continued. “And if you feel you’re not working in safe conditions, it can be even more infuriating to know the items you’re packing can sometimes be anything but essential.”
The comedian then showed a clip of Amazon warehouse employee Mario Crippen saying that “all the essential items are sold out” and that the company should shut the building down until they restock.
“Dildos are not essential items,” Crippen said. “Books for kids, yes. But dildos? No.”
“Right. Risking your life to get someone a sex toy probably doesn’t feel fair,” Oliver said. “There’s a reason ‘1917’ wasn’t about two soldiers trying to bring Benedict Cumberbatch a dildo he wanted.”
He conceded that “determining what constitutes an essential product clearly isn’t straightforward” and “if dildos make it easy for people to stay inside, you could argue they might literally save lives.”
“But if we’re depending on those workers for both our survival and to a certain extent our comfort, we owe them a lot in return,” Oliver said. “And companies should be doing everything they can to lower the risks to workers, which can mean offering protective gear, changing workflow to allow for more distance or putting up plexiglass shields in grocery stores. And one thing every company should be doing is offering paid sick leave.”
He then mocked Amazon’s initial sick leave policy enacted in response to the coronavirus, which was giving two weeks paid time off to anyone who is diagnosed with COVID-19 or who has been quarantined.
“Testing in New York is so scarce, Amazon’s plan may as well have been you get double pay and free health care for your whole family if you can guess what number Jeff Bezos is thinking.”
Oliver then brought up the story of Amazon employee Chris Smalls, who was fired two hours after he helped organize a walkout in Amazon’s Staten Island facility.
The company says Smalls was let go for “putting the health and safety of others at risk by violating social distancing guidelines.” But according to leaked notes obtained by Vice News, Amazon was discussing plans to make Smalls the “face of the entire union/organizing movement” since “he is not smart or articulate.”
“Holy s–t. That is so racist I can’t even point out how smart and articulate Smalls is without also sounding racist,” Oliver said.
Amazon’s policy is now “more lenient,” but Oliver points out that change “only came after they got a letter from 14 state attorneys general saying their initial policy was inadequate to protect the public health.”
Watch the segment from “Last Week Tonight” above.