Amazon is spending another $500 million on bonuses for employees as it comes under pressure from a global campaign targeting its business practices and a strike in one of its biggest European markets.
The company announced the bonuses on the eve of Black Friday, as protests against Amazon in Germany and elsewhere were getting underway ahead of the busy shopping weekend.
Amazon’s senior vice president for worldwide operations, Dave Clark, said that front-line US employees will receive a $300 bonus, while part-time employees will get $150. UK employees will receive bonuses of £300 ($400) and £150 ($200), respectively.
Clark said in a statement that the company is spending $2.5 billion this year on “special bonuses and incentives” for teams globally, including the “thank you” bonus it paid workers in June.
Amazon has been one of few retailers to thrive amid the pandemic. The company expects revenues to exceed $100 billion for the first time in the fourth quarter, bringing total sales for 2020 to more than $370 billion — a third higher than last year.
Its performance has emboldened unions and civil society groups that argue it should go much further in its commitments to workers and the environment. Several dozen organizations, including Greenpeace, Oxfam, Progressive International and the Tax Justice Network, are using Black Friday to call attention to concerns about worker compensation and safety, as well as Amazon’s carbon footprint and tax practices.
“It is great that workers are getting more this holiday season, [but] it is not enough,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, an umbrella organization for trade unions and one of the groups that has signed the “Make Amazon Pay” petition.
“To show it values its workforce, Amazon should collectively bargain wages and conditions with workers throughout its operations, rather than make one time unilateral gestures of appreciation,” she added.
In Germany, one of Amazon’s biggest markets in Europe, trade union Verdi has called for a three-day strike at seven of the company’s fulfillment centers. The union wants Amazon to recognize a collective labor agreement that covers wages, bonuses and paid time off.
Verdi has comparable contracts in place with other German retailers and has been staging strikes since at least 2013 in an attempt to get Amazon to agree to something similar. The union’s spokesperson Andre Scheer confirmed the strike was underway and that roughly 2,500 workers were expected to participate by the time it ends on Saturday night.
Amazon said the action won’t affect customer deliveries because it has 26,000 employees, including 10,000 seasonal workers, handling orders in 16 fulfillment centers across Germany. “The overwhelming majority of employees are doing their every day job,” said Stephan Eichenseher, a company spokesperson.
“The fact is we already offer excellent pay, excellent benefits and excellent opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment,” he added.
Amazon’s warehouse employees in Germany start on a salary of between €11.30 ($13.49) and €12.70 ($15.16) per hour, depending on the site, according to Eichenseher. The country’s minimum wage is €9.35 ($11.16) per hour.
Walkouts and protests will be taking place on Black Friday in 15 countries around the world, according to UNI Global Union, including Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Mexico, Spain and India. In Bangladesh, garment workers are demonstrating outside an Amazon supplier and demanding higher wages, UNI said.
Britain’s GMB Union on Friday called for a parliamentary inquiry into what it said were “dehumanizing” working conditions. A spokesperson for Amazon UK said that no strikes are taking place at any of its fulfillment centers in Britain.
“This is a series of misleading assertions by misinformed or self-interested groups who are using Amazon’s profile to further their individual causes,” Amazon said in response to the claims by unions and civil society groups that it is mistreating workers and the environment.
“Amazon has a strong track record of supporting our employees, our customers, and our communities, including providing safe working conditions, competitive wages and great benefits, leading on climate change with the Climate Pledge commitment to be net zero carbon by 2040, and paying billions of pounds in taxes globally.”