Amazon and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders are locked in a public dispute over pay and conditions for the e-commerce company’s warehouse workers. On Wednesday, Amazon put out an unusually sharp rebuke to the former presidential candidate’s claims that workers are underpaid and poorly treated.
“Senator Sanders continues to make inaccurate and misleading accusations against Amazon,” the company said in a blog post.
Amazon claims warehouse workers are given competitive wages and benefits and have job training programs with pathways to more lucrative careers. The blog post challenges Sanders’ position, claiming he “plays politics and makes misleading accusations.”
Update: Sanders responded to Amazon’s blog post with a detailed statement Wednesday morning. In it, he reiterated claims that Amazon fulfillment center workers are underpaid and poorly treated and challenged “the absurdity of middle class taxpayers having to subsidize large, profitable corporations, many of which are owned by billionaires.” Sanders is asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate unsafe worker conditions at warehouses. Read his full statement, which includes Amazon worker stories, here.
Sanders, the former Democratic presidential hopeful who represents Vermont as an independent, is asking current and former Amazon warehouse workers to share their experiences with his staff as they prepare to introduce legislation targeting companies whose employees require government assistance.
The bill would establish a tax on corporations with 500 or more employees equal to the dollar amount of federal benefits those workers receive. If, for example, an employee receives $200 in food assistance, Amazon would be taxed $200 to cover those costs. The legislation isn’t likely to progress in the current political climate but it does bring added attention to warehouse worker conditions, which have come under scrutiny in recent months.
The American people are subsidizing Amazon workers’ food stamps while their boss, Jeff Bezos, is the richest man in the world. It’s time to get Mr. Bezos off of welfare. pic.twitter.com/GRV2KDBkb6
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) August 28, 2018
“The taxpayers in this country should not be subsidizing a guy who’s worth $150 billion, whose wealth is increasing by $260 million every single day,” Sanders said in an interview with TechCrunch. “That is insane. He has enough money to pay his workers a living wage. He does not need corporate welfare. And our goal is to see that Bezos pays his workers a living wage.”
Sanders plans to visit an Amazon fulfillment center in September. In his statement Wednesday, he said that he tried to tour one in Wisconsin last month but Amazon could not accommodate him at the time. The September visit won’t be Sanders first time inside an Amazon facility. Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, he drew a big crowd of Amazon employees at the company’s Seattle headquarters.
The conditions inside Amazon’s fulfillment centers have come under a magnifying glass in recent months. A Business Insider story from May depicted a high-pressure work environment where some employees resorted to drastic measures for fear of taking bathroom breaks.
In April, financial documents revealed the median pay for Amazon’s 566,000 global employees was $28,446 at the end of 2017. That number includes full- and part-time workers, as well as Whole Foods Market employees and people who work at Amazon headquarters, engineering centers and other locations.
It’s a stark contrast with Bezos’ net worth of more than $150 billion, though much of that wealth is tied up in Amazon stock. Bezos’ salary in 2017 was a little over $80,000.
It isn’t entirely clear how many Amazon warehouse workers rely on government assistance. According to Sanders, thousands of Amazon employees receive financial help from the government. The nonprofit Policy Matters Ohio estimates that one in 10 Amazon workers in Ohio receives federal food assistance but those figures are limited to just one state.
Amazon says that in the U.S., the average hourly wage for a full-time fulfillment center employee is more than $15 per hour.
“In addition to highly competitive wages and a climate controlled, safe workplace, Amazon provides employees with a comprehensive benefit package including health insurance, disability insurance, retirement savings plans, and company stock,” Amazon said in the blog post responding to Sanders.
In an effort to shift the narrative on warehouse workers, Amazon has started paying employees to respond to criticism on Twitter with positive stories about their experiences.
Those definitely arent the conditions at my FC. I do a lot of jobs on the floor (replying to tweets is just another one of the jobs I do). Frankly though its not as hard as most people are making it to be. I dont ever see anyone overworked. Gotta say its a good way to be active.
— Caleb – Amazon FC Ambassador 📦 (@AmazonFCCaleb) August 23, 2018
Dave Clark, Amazon’s head of global operations, is also asking employees to share their positive experiences with the Sanders team.
“I encourage you and your teams to let him know what you think,” Clark said in an email to the operations leadership team, which Amazon made public as part of its post. “He only asks if you are on food stamps, but I hope he would be interested in hearing that you’re not as well. Please feel free to tell him your truth, and encourage all employees in your buildings to do the same.”