Biden top consumer pick torches Amazon for 'cheating its workers'

Progressives concerned about whether President Joe Biden will be aggressive enough for consumers got an encouraging glimpse today when his nominee to run the Consumers Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) carved up corporate giant Amazon.

Rohit Chopra, awaiting Senate confirmation for the CFPB post, made no effort to appear diplomatic in response to the news that Amazon will pay more than $61.7 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation. The company owed the money "to Flex drivers from whom it withheld the full amount of customer tips," as reported by The Los Angeles Times.

Chopra, currently an FTC commissioner, was a little harsher than the media:

"Today, the FTC is sanctioning Amazon.com for expanding its business empire by cheating its workers," he wrote. "In total, Amazon stole nearly one-third of drivers' tips to pad its own bottom line.

"This theft did not go unnoticed by Amazon's drivers, many of whom expressed anger and confusion to the company. But rather than coming clean, Amazon took elaborate steps to mislead its drivers and conceal its theft, sending them canned responses that repeated the company's lies. The complaint charges that Amazon executives chose not to alter the practice, instead, viewing drivers' complaints as a "PR risk," which they sought to contain"

In a closing comment which might provide insight into Chopra's philosophy as he takes over the CFPB, he wrote:

"Companies should succeed only when they compete, not when they cheat or abuse their power. While Amazon.com is one of the largest, most powerful, and most feared firms in the world, the company cannot be above the law. Regulators and enforcers in the United States and around the globe can no longer turn a blind eye."

The 38-year-old Chopra, a protégé of Senator Elizabeth Warren, also took to Twitter to express his indignation:

Chopra can be expected to provide a 180-degree turn for in consumer protection from Biden's predecessor. As the Washington Post reported, "The (CFPB), the watchdog created after the 2008 financial meltdown and largely muzzled in the Trump era, is poised to start barking again.

"The agency will focus first on enforcing legal protections for distressed renters, student borrowers and others facing growing debt that its previous leadership has been lax about imposing during the pandemic.

"But the CFPB — which President Biden has tapped 38-year-old Rohit Chopra to lead — is also likely to take an unprecedentedly tough line against industry giants it finds engaging in abusive practices, former agency officials advising the Biden team say."

That was before Chopra unloaded on Amazon. But the Post did include this prediction about his upcoming tenure:

"Under a Director Chopra, I think you'll see the agency looking at industry practices in a broader way, seeking systemic changes in matters harming consumers, not just one-off fraud cases," said Hudson Cook attorney Lucy Morris, who worked with Chopra as the CFPB's then-deputy enforcement director."

For perspective about what the shift means, there was this:

"Over the course of the Trump presidency, the agency wrangled $2.3 billion in consumer relief, a steep drop from the $10.7 billion during its first five full years in operation under the Obama administration. And the agency shifted its crosshairs notably — from big-money actions against major companies including American Express, Citibank, Corinthian Colleges, JPMorgan Chase, Sprint and Wells Fargo, to smaller-dollar rulings against more fringe firms.

"When you're only going after last-dollar scammers and small, fly-by-night companies, you're not sending a message to the big banks, big debt collectors, and big credit bureaus that there's a sheriff in town," said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group's federal consumer program. "As soon as he's confirmed, Rohit will bring a renewed sense of urgency."