Bezos draws scorn for thanking Amazon workers after space flight

The world’s richest man wanted to say thanks to the people who made his brief trip into space on Tuesday possible.

ut for some, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s expression of gratitude went over like a lead rocket.

“I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this,” the 57-year-old said during a news conference after becoming the second billionaire in just over a week to ride in his own spacecraft.

Mr Bezos built Amazon into a shopping and entertainment behemoth but has faced increasing activism within his own workforce and rising pressure from critics to improve working conditions.

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Jeff Bezos is awarded his Blue Origin-made astronaut wings by former NASA astronaut Jeff Ashby after the flight (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Labour groups and Amazon workers have claimed the company does not offer its hourly employees enough break times, puts too much reliance on rigid productivity metrics, and has unsafe working conditions. An effort to unionise workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama failed earlier this year.

Robert Reich, former secretary of labour under President Bill Clinton and a professor of public policy at University of California, Berkeley, wrote on Twitter that Mr Bezos had crushed unionising attempts for decades.

“Amazon workers don’t need Bezos to thank them. They need him to stop union busting — and pay them what they deserve,” Mr Reich wrote.

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Mark Bezos, left, and Wally Funk, right, listen as Jeff Bezos speaks about their flight experience (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Mr Bezos stepped down as Amazon CEO in July, allowing him more time for side projects including his space exploration company Blue Origin. He has said he has financed the rocket company by selling one billion dollars (£730 million) in Amazon stock each year.

After the spaceflight, Mr Bezos awarded 100 million-dollar (£73 million) donations through a new philanthropic initiative to both Washington DC chef Jose Andres and CNN contributor Van Jones to put towards any charity or non-profit organisation of their choice.

Mr Jones has founded a number of non-profit organisations and Mr Andres’s non-profit group World Central Kitchen provides meals to people after natural disasters.

Nevertheless, House Representative Earl Blumenauer, who is on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, proposed on Tuesday legislation that would tax space travel for non-scientific research purposes.

“Space exploration isn’t a tax-free holiday for the wealthy,” said Mr Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat. “Just as normal Americans pay taxes when they buy airline tickets, billionaires who fly into space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some.”

Others tied his spaceflight to reports Mr Bezos has not paid his fair share of taxes. According to the non-profit investigative journalism organisation ProPublica, Mr Bezos paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011.

“Jeff Bezos forgot to thank all the hardworking Americans who actually paid taxes to keep this country running while he and Amazon paid nothing,” Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted.

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