Amazon (AMZN) has remained silent over President Donald Trump’s attacks, but it spoke up against Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday. In a rare move, the e-commerce giant said Sanders “plays politics and makes misleading accusations” in response to Sanders’s criticism on Amazon warehouse workers’ compensation and benefits.
Update 10/3/18: Amazon announced a raise of workers’ minimum wage to $15, and Sanders publicly thanked Bezos.
“Senator Sanders continues to spread misleading statements about pay and benefits,” Amazon said in the blog, adding the average hourly wage for a full-time associate in fulfillment centers, including cash, stock, and incentive bonuses, is over $15 an hour. But Sanders said many Amazon workers employed by temporary staffing agencies and contractors are underpaid.
In response to Sanders’s accusation that some Amazon employees are receiving federal benefits like food stamps, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), Amazon said it’s “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 said Sanders hasn’t visited its warehouses despite repeated invitations. Sanders, who said he requested to visit the fulfillment center in Kenosha, Wisconsin last month but Amazon could not accommodate, plans to visit a fulfillment center in Chester, Virginia next month.
Dave Clark, Amazon’s head of global operations, sent an email to his team on Wednesday with the subject line, “Please encourage associates to tell Senator Sanders their truth,” urging them to share with Sanders positive experiences of working for Amazon.
Sanders has been seeking additional information about working conditions in Amazon warehouses for a bill he’s preparing to introduce on September 5. The proposed bill targets not just Amazon, but also other big employers like Walmart. The bill would require big corporations to pay employees more, a continuation of Sanders’s call for income equality, the centerpiece of his 2016 presidential campaign.
“If Amazon, Walmart and other corporations won’t pay their workers a living wage, our bill would establish a 100% tax equal to the amount of federal benefits received by their low-wage workers. The American taxpayer should not be subsidizing the richest people in history so they can underpay their employees,” said Sanders in a statement.
Amazon’s fight for reputation
Amazon has been on a hiring spree as its warehouses expand nationwide. Last year, the company said it added 130,000 new positions. It also hosted a Jobs Day event last August, during which 20,000 people showed up at its fulfillment centers for 50,000 job openings.
While a stable income and health care benefits are attractive to new employees, the repetitive and high-pressure work has resulted in high turnover. According to PayScale, Amazon’s employee-turnover rates are the second worst of all Fortune 500 companies.
Long under pressure from labor union organizations and worker-rights advocacy groups, Amazon has increasingly felt the pressure to defend itself and improve its image. Last week, Amazon started to pay employees to post positive comments about working in warehouses. Those people, who call themselves FC (fulfillment center) ambassadors, share joyful experiences of working at Amazon warehouses and dispute others’ criticism by sharing their personal experiences.
Fourteen ambassador are former warehouse workers who have switched to full-time social media, promotion jobs, for the same pay and benefits as their prior roles. One such ambassador said that she now has the time to use the restroom. Another ambassador called Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, his heavenly father.
“It’s important that we do a good job of educating people about the actual environment inside our fulfillment centers, and the FC ambassador program is a big part of that along with the fulfillment center tours we provide,” an Amazon spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.
Krystal Hu covers technology and economy for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.