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Amazon is feeling the Bern, but not in the way you think

Amazon is feeling the Bern, but not in the way you think
[Photo: Flickr user Edward Kimmel]

Amazon accused Senator Bernie Sanders, the liberal independent from Vermont, of leveling “inaccurate and misleading accusations” about warehouse pay and working conditions in a statement released Wednesday.

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The statement came after Sanders called for current and former employees to share their experiences working at the company, including whether they’ve needed food stamps, Medicaid, or subsidized housing. Sanders has vowed to introduce a bill next week that would tax big companies whose employees receive such benefits to cover their cost.

Amazon says reports of employees receiving food stamps, now formally called SNAP, are misleading because they include new hires and voluntarily part-time workers:

“In the U.S., the average hourly wage for a full-time associate in our fulfillment centers, including cash, stock, and incentive bonuses, is over $15/hour before overtime. We encourage anyone to compare our pay and benefits to other retailers. Senator Sanders’ references to SNAP, which hasn’t been called “food stamps” for several years, are also misleading because they include people who only worked for Amazon for a short period of time and/or chose to work part-time — both of these groups would almost certainly qualify for SNAP.”

Amazon also critiqued Sanders for not visiting one of its fulfillment centers, but in a response Wednesday, Sanders said a previous attempt to visit a Wisconsin warehouse fell through and that he plans to visit a Virginia center in September.

“It’s not only low wages that are of concern with regard to Amazon,” Sanders wrote. “There are deeply disturbing stories about working conditions at fulfillment centers run by Amazon and its contractors. Amazon’s warehouses are on the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s list of most dangerous places to work in the United States.”

Sanders also shared testimonials from people he said were current and former workers, including some who reported low pay, safety issues caused by strict productivity quotas, short lunch breaks, and overall poor treatment. Sanders also alleged that some of the fulfillment center workers are actually employed by outside contractors and make less than Amazon employees. Amazon says the majority of workers are Amazon employees.

“Throughout the year on average, nearly 90 percent of associates across the company’s US fulfillment network are regular employees who receive full benefits,” a company spokesperson said in an email to Fast Company.

The company said in its letter that it has encouraged its warehouse workers to share their stories with Sanders. That move comes after the company launched a program where employees identified as “fulfillment center ambassadors” have taken to Twitter to defend Amazon’s working conditions and pay, even amid social media mockery.

Updated to include statement from Amazon on the percentage of workers who are full-time employees.

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