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Sanders vs. Amazon Intensifies as Senator Stands With Struggling Workers Against World's Richest Man

"No one working for a man who earns $260 million a day should be forced to sleep in their car. Yet that is what's happening at Amazon."

Jake Johnson

"The American taxpayer should not be subsidizing the richest people in history so they can underpay their employees," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote on Wednesday. (Photos: Getty Images)

After Amazon issued a rare blog post on Wednesday denouncing Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) recent criticism of the retail behemoth as "inaccurate," Sanders quickly responded with a statement accusing Amazon of being "less than forthcoming" about how much it actually pays its workers and highlighting the fact that Amazon warehouses are considered some of the "most dangerous places to work in the United States."

"The American taxpayer should not be subsidizing the richest people in history so they can underpay their employees."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
While Amazon boasted in its public response to Sanders that it provides a "climate controlled, safe workplace" for its employees, the Vermont senator highlighted the fact that the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health—a workers' rights advocacy group—placed Amazon on its "Dirty Dozen" list of companies with unsafe working conditions earlier this year.

"I will be asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to investigate unsafe working conditions at Amazon fulfillment centers," Sanders wrote in his statement, which provides a small sample of stories current and former Amazon employees have submitted to Sanders' office in response to a request he put out on Monday.

"Amazon's 'Fulfillment' Centers are not designed with human beings in mind," wrote one anonymous former Amazon employee from Texas. "If anyone wanted to experience what a turn of the 20th century American sweat shop might have looked/sounded/felt like they could look no further than Amazon."

In a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday, Sanders wondered why Amazon would have to pay workers to sing the company's praises online if its working conditions are so great:

Sanders also reiterated a fact that he has trumpeted repeatedly over the past several weeks: According to public data, thousands of Amazon workers are forced to rely on public assistance programs like food stamps and Medicaid to survive because Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos—the richest man in the world—refuses to pay a living wage.

In its blog post—which one journalist described as "entirely misleading"—Amazon insisted that its pay is "highly competitive" and asserted that "the average hourly wage for a full-time associate in our fulfillment centers, including cash, stock, and incentive bonuses, is over $15/hour before overtime."

But as Gizmodo's Bryan Menegus noted on Wednesday, Amazon is "sneakily inflating its average hourly wage with stock options that require two years to vest and incentive bonuses individual workers have no direct control over."

"Compared to its warehousing competitors, Amazon is the same or worse in terms of pay, with hard caps on raises, and far more punishing in terms of the productivity it extracts from its workers," Menegus added, citing an analysis from earlier this year.

As Sanders observed in his statement, "Amazon's median employee pay is only $28,446—nine percent less than the industry average and well below what constitutes a living wage in the United States."

"Further, we believe that many of Amazon's workers are employed by temporary staffing agencies and contractors and make even less than the median Amazon employee," Sanders added. "Unfortunately, this is all the information we have because Amazon refuses to make public complete information about the wages and benefits provided by the contractors it uses to run fulfillment centers across the country."

Undeterred by Amazon's deceptive blog post, Sanders concluded that he still plans to introduce legislation next week that would force Amazon and other major corporations "off welfare" by imposing a 100 percent tax on the public assistance their low-paid workers receive.

"On September 5 we are going to introduce legislation to end the absurdity of middle class taxpayers having to subsidize large, profitable corporations, many of which are owned by billionaires," Sanders wrote. "The American taxpayer should not be subsidizing the richest people in history so they can underpay their employees."

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