May 25, 2012

Protestors disrupt Amazon stockholder meeting, later claim victory for “the 99%”


Protestors outside the Amazon stockholders meeting in Seattle

More than 100 protestors rallied outside and inside Amazon‘s annual stockholders meeting in Seattle yesterday, calling upon the company to treat its workers better, pay its taxes, and end its support of a right wing lobbying group. Police “forcibly removed” several protestors inside the meeting for standing in the aisles and shouting at company founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, according to a Seattle Times report by Amy Martinez.

A Seattle Weekly story details Twitter reports from the protest’s organizers telling a different story — that the protestors in the meeting who were escorted out were “Shareholders who demanded Amazon pay its fair share,” and were not just forcibly removed but arrested.

Seattle’s KING 5 television reports “Some protesters apparently bought a single share of Amazon stock just to gain access to the meeting.”

A report from local tech blog Xconomy says infiltrators …

… linked arms and shouted slogans, forcing the Seattle police to haul them out of the meeting, back into the arms of a cheering crowd of fellow protesters outside.

From his place at center stage, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos seemed to watch the antics as if an alien species had landed in the room.

He stood onstage, head cocked to the side, as the made-for-news-media spectacle unfolded. Once the noise died down, Bezos made sure he got the last word: “l’d like to thank all of you for coming, and we’ll see you next year.”

The protest was organized by a local labor group, Working Washington, and “This is part of a national effort to go after some of the worst corporate tax dodgers,” one of the protesters, John Sellers, explains in the Seattle Times report. The group was also upset about Amazon’s association with the conservative lobbying group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and about working conditions at Amazon warehouses and other facilities. As the Times notes, Amazon has been “under heavy criticism for conditions at its warehouses after a Pennsylvania newspaper revealed that employees were forced to work in temperatures above 100 degrees last summer.”

(The reference is to a story in the Morning Call, which reported that rather than install air conditioners at its plant in Altoona, PA, Amazon had “arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals.”)

The Seattle Weekly report says the “rally culminated a week’s worth of protest against Amazon, in which banners were hung over Interstate 5, rallies were undertaken at Amazon headquarters,” and a ” ‘99% Theses‘ was left at the doors of Amazon’s top executives and its Board of Directors.” The theses, detailing charges against the company,  was headlined “Regarding Amazon’s corporate indulgences including tax dodging, worker mistreatment, and support for groups like ALEC.”

The Xconomy report says …

… despite the care taken to bat down the protesters’ message, the meeting had a paranoid feel to it.

There was no webcast of the event as in years past, which lets shareholders, analysts, and reporters participate even if they’re not in Seattle. Reporters were not allowed to take video or still photos inside the meeting, presumably to keep the protesters inside from playing to the cameras too much.

Audio recording was also banned, which seemed excessive—why not give the media a chance to get all of the quotes right? Reporters were constantly accompanied by minders, and some of them were using the in-ear speakers and wrist microphones you expect to see on Secret Service agents. Uniformed cops were everywhere, and security was just below airport-and-courthouse grade, with metal detectors and bag inspections at the gate. Shareholders had to present ID and documentation of their stock holdings to get in.

Once underway, company officials ducked questions from shareholders regarding its avoidance of tax payments, but according to the Times Bezos did announce “the company will spend $52 million this year retrofitting its warehouses with air conditioning.” And, “In response to a shareholder’s question, general counsel Michelle Wilson said Amazon has decided not to renew its membership” in the right wing lobbying group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), ” because of positions they’ve taken not related to our business.”

In the end, the Seattle Weekly report says that Working Washington called yesterday’s protest — and Amazon’s concessions — a victory for “the 99%.”


One of the protest banners hung off an overpass in downtown Seattle calling upon Amazon to pay its taxes

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives