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Amazon Ponies Up $500M in Bonuses For Front-line Workers

Adriana Lee

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Amazon is providing $500 million in one-time bonuses to employees and partners on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, the company disclosed in a blog on Monday.

According to the post, Dave Clark, senior vice president of worldwide operations, sent notices to workers explaining the financial bump, which ranges from $150 to $3,000 for those who stick with the company through June. This “thank you” bonus extends to Amazon employees, Whole Foods Market employees, Delivery Service Partners and Amazon flex drivers.

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“Our front-line operations teams have been on an incredible journey over the last few months, and we want to show our appreciation with a special one-time Thank You bonus totaling over $500 million,” he wrote.

As the depth of COVID-19 crisis first swelled in March, Amazon tacked on an extra $2 per hour in temporary pay raises for warehouse workers and offered double overtime pay and unlimited unpaid time off. The raises, which were extended twice, expired as June arrived, and there was no whiff of them in this latest announcement.

Whether employees find the bonuses fair compensation for risking their health during a highly contagious crisis will likely be evident soon. Amazon workers haven’t been shy about voicing concerns, especially when it comes to the pandemic.

Union officials in Germany said that as many as 30 to 40 employees in one German warehouse have tested positive for COVID-19, leading to strikes at six locations on Monday. These protests were just the latest, following similar actions in places like Michigan and Staten Island over the past few months. In the U.S., seven Amazon warehouse workers have died from the coronavirus.

Amazon fired workers following the U.S. strikes, leading one vice president to resign in disgust. In a blog post, Tim Bray, a high-level engineer at Amazon Web Services, said the firings were indicative of the “toxicity running through the company culture.”

The e-tailing juggernaut has found these incidents difficult to shake off. As one of the biggest employers in the U.S., the company has benefited from the pandemic’s spike in online shopping — to the tune of some 10 billion items per year and $75.5 billion in net sales in the first quarter — which only feeds a narrative casting it as a corporate empire willing to sacrifice workers for the sake of profits.

Amazon’s earmarking of $4 billion on safety initiatives, such as temperature screenings, face covering policies and other changes, hasn’t quelled the unrest. In fact, the sheer size of the company’s numbers, especially extrapolated to the end of the year, dwarf the safety expenses and may make the bonuses look that much more trivial.

Ultimately, the workers will have the final say on whether a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars are an adequate show of appreciation.

Of course, Amazon is not the only retailer reckoning with how to treat its essential workers. Target, Walmart, Kroger and others have offered compensation bumps and paid similar attention to safety, or at least paid lip service to it. But even that facade may be waning.

As several states hit new highs in COVID-19 cases, Costco, Target, Kroger and others have been working to relax safety measures — from offering food samples to resuming onsite merchandise returns — in an apparent bid to “get back to normal.”