Amazon.com Inc. is doling out hiring bonuses as high as US$3,000 to make sure it has enough people to squeak through the busy holiday shopping season. That’s stoking resentment among existing workers who recently got coupons for Thanksgiving turkeys as a thank-you for their hard work.
Social-media chatrooms where Amazon workers congregate have lit up. One worker shared a photo of a US$15 turkey voucher, prompting others to boast they received coupons for US$20 or US$25, while others lamented that they got nothing. When a worker in Alabama said his warehouse got US$10 vouchers, colleagues joked that it was barely enough to buy a turkey leg.
Amazon’s willingness to risk dissension in the ranks reflects a dawning reality: Many Americans are reluctant to re-enter the workforce, despite a national unemployment rate of 6.9 per cent, double the pre-pandemic level. Searches for seasonal work dropped 25 per cent from 2019, according to job site Indeed.com. Partly that’s because some workers still receive unemployment benefits. Partly it’s because they’re afraid of catching COVID-19.
To help avoid delivery delays during what’s already shaping up to be a blockbuster holiday season, the world’s largest online retailer has decided to throw people at the problem, even if it ends up with too many workers. So a few weeks ago, Amazon began dangling signing bonuses. The sums depend on where the recruits live: US$3,000 at some facilities in California and Illinois, US$2,000 in Maryland and Massachusetts and US$1,500 at many other facilities around the country.
"People who in the past might be thinking about picking up some money moonlighting with a part-time job are now thinking about the COVID-19 risk," said Peter Cappelli, a management professor and director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. "Many people without jobs still expect to be recalled, so they are having the same thought, whether picking up a short-term job is worth the risk. That’s why it is harder to find people even with the high rates of joblessness."
Amazon didn’t address Bloomberg’s queries about staff concerns. The company offers workers a minimum of US$15 an hour, health and retirement benefits, job training and opportunities for career growth, Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said. "We encourage anyone to compare our overall pay, benefits, and workplace environment to other retailers and major employers across the country," she said.
When the outbreak struck the U.S. earlier this year, Amazon was overwhelmed by a spike in orders as Americans avoided physical stores. To get deliveries back on track and entice fearful workers to show up, the company offered temporary pay raises of US$2 per hour as well as unlimited unpaid time off, no questions asked.
In June, with Amazon’s stuttering delivery machine regaining momentum, the company ended the pandemic raises and began forcing workers to justify requests for time off. The decision was poorly received in Amazon’s shipping facilities, but employees had few alternatives. Now, with COVID-19 cases resurging across the country, many workers believe it’s time their employer brought back the temporary raises, which many equate to danger pay.
That’s why receiving turkey coupons, when newbies are getting bonuses, rankles so much. Some workers see the Butterball-branded vouchers as a slap in the face when they’ve toiled through the pandemic, helping to push the stock and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos’s wealth to record highs. The net worth of the world’s wealthiest man has surged more than US$67 billion this year to US$182.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s index.
"If one worker gets a turkey and another worker gets US$3,000, it’s the ultimate insult in compensation," said Fred Whittlesey, a compensation expert and former Amazon employee "People constantly compare. It doesn’t matter if it’s money, a turkey or a share of stock. If someone got something I didn’t get, it immediately creates resentment."
With COVID-19 cases spiking anew and governments implementing precautionary restrictions, Amazon’s momentum is expected to carry it through the holiday. U.S. shoppers will spend US$189 billion online in November and December, up 33 per cent from a year ago, according to Adobe Inc. Amazon gets nearly 40 cents of every dollar spent online, according to EMarketer Inc., making it the biggest beneficiary.
— Bloomberg News