What You Need to Know About Bernie Sanders and Amazon’s War of Words

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The senator said the company’s wages and conditions need to improve. Amazon said Sanders is being ‘misleading’ in his claims.

August 30, 2018 3 min read

Sen. Bernie Sanders is taking a closer look at how big corporations treat their workers, especially ones overseen by billionaires such as Amazon and Walmart. Here is what you need to know about the conflict between Jeff Bezos’s ecommerce empire and the senator who has built his platform on issues of economic equality.

Sanders’s inquiry

The senator from Vermont recently posted a form on his website asking Amazon employees to share their experience of working for the company, particularly if they used public assistance programs.

Sanders invoked Jeff Bezos in the explanation for why he was seeking these accounts, writing on his website, “Amazon is one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, and its owner, Jeff Bezos, is the richest man on the planet, worth over $155 billion. Despite this, Bezos continues to pay many thousands of his Amazon employees wages that are so low that they are forced to depend on taxpayer-funded programs.”

While Amazon encouraged its employees to “to tell Senator Sanders their truth,” the company’s leadership also took issue with Sanders’s characterization of the fulfillment center working conditions, saying that the senator was making “misleading accusations.”

Amazon’s response

In a blog post addressing the inquiry, the company claimed that Sanders had not toured a fulfillment center despite invitations to do so.

The post also included details about the company’s payment and benefits package, writing that the company created more than 130,000 jobs in the last year. ”Sanders claims that Amazon’s median U.S. salary is $28,446, despite the fact that we’ve made clear that this number is global and includes part-time employees,” the company wrote. “In fact, the median U.S. salary for full-time Amazon employees is $34,123. We encourage anyone to compare our pay and benefits to other retailers.”

The post also criticized Sanders’s use of the term “food stamps” when referring to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), in part because the lexicon had been phased out in recent years and because those who were participating in the program included “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.”

Sanders’ rebuttal

Yesterday, Sanders released a statement in response to Amazon’s blog post criticizing the company for having a lack of transparency particularly when it comes the information available about the benefits and wages for contractors and temporary workers.

Sanders went on to voice his concerns about safe working conditions at Amazon warehouses, saying that he would be asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to investigate as part of the legislation he plans to introduce on Sept. 5 in an effort to “end the absurdity of middle class taxpayers having to subsidize large, profitable corporations, many of which are owned by billionaires.”

The senator explained that if large corporations such as Amazon and Walmart did not pay their employees “a living wage,” the bill would create a 100 percent tax equivalent to the amount of federal benefits received by the workers.

Though Bezos’s name and the amount of money in his bank account has been a key part of Sanders’s argument, the Amazon CEO has yet to weigh in, leaving the public response to executives such as SVP of Operations Dave Clark.

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