Amazon’s Prime Day just wrapped up yesterday and, reportedly, it was bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday, combined!
The two-day sales bonanza also triggered a halo effect that rippled across online retailers. Big box competitors say their sales rose 68 percent while sales at small retailers rose 28 percent.
This wasn’t the only big news out of the retailer. The company recently launched a new effort to invest in the future of their workforce.
Amazon rolled out a plan to spend $700 million on educational programs to retrain 100,000 employees (a third of its workforce) over the next five years.
The company will also pay up to $12,000 for warehouse workers to earn certificates and degrees in “high-demand” occupations.
A couple of reasons might explain why Amazon is investing so heavily in its workforce.
First, the company wants to prepare its workers for an ever-changing economy that will require new skills and education for future jobs. It is upskilling its employees to operate the robots and technology that will eventually replace workers. This creates a career path that employees can be proud of.
Second, because of the tight jobs market, Amazon joins other companies like Walmart and Google in boosting worker benefits – from higher minimum salaries to paid parental leave – to be more attractive to talent. Even $15 an hour pay rates are not enough to capture workers who are scarce. Better benefits such as education benefits can be attractive and boost retention rates.
Amazon is creating a picture of being an opportunity-driven employer.
However, Amazon is fighting the picture drawn by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, AOC, unions, and workers advocacy groups. They want to paint the company as being dangerous and a “sweatshop.”
During Prime Day, dozens of Amazon workers in various cities protested working conditions at warehouses including not getting enough time for bathroom breaks, workplace injuries, and an inability to keep pace with production targets.
AOC and Senator Sanders are now demanding that the federal agency that polices workplace conditions, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, look into media reporting of allegations that Amazon has ‘unsafe,’ ‘bruising’ and ‘grueling’ work conditions that make for ‘a recipe for disaster,’ putting ‘workers and communities at risk.’
Workplace safety is nothing to dismiss, but it’s reasonable to ask whether their new, found concern about Amazon’s workplace is politically motivated?
These left-leaning lawmakers have gone after the company before.
Bernie Sanders criticized Amazon for not paying workers $15 an hour. Now, it does. AOC used her Twitter bully pulpit to keep Amazon out of New York City to the dissatisfaction of many New Yorkers who looked forward to the high-paying jobs.
Amazon pioneered two-day shipping and is disrupting the delivery industry as it employs robots, drones, and networks of its own drivers. That has meant faster and cheaper service for the breadth of goods that customers want. They recognize that technological advancements boost productivity, but has an impact on labor. They seem to be approaching this impact on workers with an action plan that will leave workers better off in the long run.
While some lawmakers are micro-focused on targeting specific companies they don’t like, they could better focus their attention on expanding opportunity for all workers.
That would encourage more employers to invest in their workforce to prepare them for future jobs as well.