Bernie Sanders strikes back at Amazon, calling the retail giant’s treatment of employees ‘absurd’

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders replied to Amazon after the retail giant responded to the senator’s criticisms about worker pay and safety.
  • Sanders rebutted Amazon’s claim that workers were paid a competitive wage and were given good benefits.
  • Sanders called it “absurd” that some Amazon workers were relying on federal assistance while Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world.

Sen. Bernie Sanders struck back at Amazon in a growing battle between the corporate-skeptic lawmaker and one of the largest companies in the world.

“Bottom line: the taxpayers of this country should not have to subsidize employees at a company owned by Mr. Bezos who is worth $155 billion. That is absurd,” Sanders said.

On Wednesday, Amazon replied to months of criticism by Sanders regarding the company’s treatment of workers and employee pay. The company argued that worker pay was competitive for the industry, that the benefits Amazon offered were generous, and that conditions in its fulfillment centers were “safe.”

In a reply statement, Sanders disagreed with all three assertions:

  • On wages: Sanders pointed to numbers from Amazon that showed median worker pay was $28,446. Additionally, the senator’s spokesperson pointed Business Insider to a study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance which claimed pay at Amazon fulfillment centers is 9% lower than the industry average for similar work.
  • On benefits: While Sanders did not respond to Amazon’s points about the company’s benefits, the senator said that he believes the company uses contractors for its work that do not receive the same benefits. “If Amazon is so proud of the way it treats its workers, it should make public the number of people it hires through temporary staffing agencies like Integrity Staffing Solutions and make public the hourly rate and benefits those workers earn,” he said.
  • On safety: While Amazon contended its workplaces were safe, Sanders highlighted incidents at the company’s fulfillment centers. “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,” the statement said. “According to the NCOSH, seven Amazon workers have died on or near the job since 2013, including three workers within five weeks at three separate locations last year.” The senator also said he would request the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to look into the fulfillment centers.

The back-and-forth comes after Sanders announced Friday that he would introduce a bill requiring large employers to pay for the federal assistance their workers received. The plan would force companies to either shoulder the burden for things like federal housing assistance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program , Sanders said, or pay their workers more.

Here’s Sanders’ response in full:

Let’s start with the facts. All over this country, many Amazon employees, who work for the wealthiest person on Earth, are paid wages so low they can’t make ends meet. Thousands of Amazon employees are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing because their wages are too low, including 1 out of 3 of its workers in Arizona and 2,400 in Pennsylvania and Ohio, according to The New Food Economy. Bottom line: the taxpayers of this country should not have to subsidize employees at a company owned by Mr. Bezos who is worth $155 billion. That is absurd.

Amazon has been less than forthcoming with information about their employment practices. What we do know is that Amazon’s median employee pay is only $28,446 – 9 percent less than the industry average and well below what constitutes a living wage in the United States. Further, we believe that many of Amazon’s workers are employed by temporary staffing agencies and contractors and make even less than the median Amazon employee.

Unfortunately, this is all the information we have because Amazon refuses to make public complete information about the wages and benefits provided by the contractors it uses to run fulfillment centers across the country. If Amazon is so proud of the way it treats its workers, it should make public the number of people it hires through temporary staffing agencies like Integrity Staffing Solutions and make public the hourly rate and benefits those workers earn.

It’s not only low wages that are of concern with regard to Amazon. 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. According to the NCOSH, seven Amazon workers have died on or near the job since 2013, including three workers within five weeks at three separate locations last year. I will be asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate unsafe working conditions at Amazon fulfillment centers.

In terms of visiting a fulfillment center, last month I was visiting Wisconsin and requested to visit the fulfillment center in Kenosha. Unfortunately, Amazon could not accommodate me then. In September, I look forward to visiting the fulfillment center in Chester, Virginia, and working out the details with Amazon. We have heard from workers there, including Navy veteran Seth King, about unsafe working conditions and at least one person has reportedly died at the warehouse. On September 5 we are going to introduce legislation to end the absurdity of middle class taxpayers having to subsidize large, profitable corporations, many of which are owned by billionaires. If Amazon, Walmart and other corporations won’t pay their workers a living wage, our bill would establish a 100 percent 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.