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Amazon dumps "stealth tax" on unsuspecting warehouse workers

Amazon raised its minimum wage for US workers to $15 per hour. Then, it took a bunch of other benefits away in what's being called a "stealth tax."

  • Previous to the announced increase in minimum wage to $15/hr., warehouse workers were eligible for production bonuses and stock awards. Those will be terminated when the wage is increased.
  • Amazon claims it's a net gain for the workers, but others disagree.
  • CEO Jeff Bezos still makes $30,000 a minute.

Net positive, or not so much?

Following the announcement earlier this week of Amazon increasing wages to $15/hr., the company today told its warehouse workers that production bonuses and stock awards are no longer on the table.

Because, of course.

"The significant increase in hourly cash wages more than compensates for the phase out of incentive pay and [restrictive stock units]," Amazon's spokesperson said in an emailed statement to CNBC. "We can confirm that all hourly Operations and Customer Service employees will see an increase in their total compensation as a result of this announcement. In addition, because it's no longer incentive-based, the compensation will be more immediate and predictable."

The net effect will be a reduction for some, especially those who have been with the company the longest; warehouse workers had received effectively one share every year after having been with the company for a number of years. That would currently be worth nearly $2,000, and they received an additional extra share every five years as well. Also, production bonuses added up to as much as $3,000 a year for some.

Based on a 40-hour workweek, that's a net loss of $2.40/hr. for those who were able to receive both of those bonuses. In other words, for those already making over $12.50/hr. plus stock and production bonuses, it takes money away.

The news comes on the heels of praise from all over the place for the initial wage increase, including Senator Bernie Sanders, a long time critic of companies with employees forced to receive welfare and Medicaid because of such low wages.

Workers in an Amazon warehouse.

Scott Lewis via Flickr

Amazon's "stealth tax" on its workers

At a time when CEO Jeff Bezos makes more every minute—nearly $30,000—than many Amazon employees do in total, it's an interesting move, and one that might test the loyalty of some long-time employees.

Reactions were swift. In the U.S., the United Food and Commercial Workers' union (UFCW) asks the question:


And in a Tweet from the 700,000-strong GMB union in Great Britain, which seeks to represent more Amazon workers, Amazon's action was blasted as a "stealth tax":


So, what say you? Is this a "Robbing Peter to pay Paul" move after a much-awaited pay raise, or is it a legitimate business decision based on dollars and sense?

Or something else entirely?

Photo: Getty Images

Are you there, Jeff Bezos? It's us, the 99%.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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