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President Obama praises Amazon in jobs speech at one of its controversial warehouses

President Obama praises Amazon in jobs speech at one of its controversial warehouses


Are these really the jobs that will rebuild America?

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obama sotu

President Obama will deliver a speech on rebuilding middle-class American jobs today from an Amazon warehouse in Tennessee, but a look at the facts about employment at the giant internet retailer may work against the White House's intended symbolism. Amazon may be creating jobs — just yesterday it announced 5,000 new warehouse positions — but they're not likely to be the coveted middle class jobs that Obama will call for in his speech today.

The positions range from about $11 to $13 an hour, and while Amazon compares them to retail jobs, they're really warehouse jobs. Employees at Amazon's fulfillment centers retrieve, package, and send out orders to Amazon's online customers.

"The president wants to highlight Amazon as an example of a company spurring job growth."

"The Amazon facility in Chattanooga is a perfect example of the company that is investing in American workers and creating good, high-wage jobs," deputy White House press secretary Amy Brundage told Fortune. "What the president wants to do is to highlight Amazon and the Chattanooga facility as an example of a company that is spurring job growth and keeping our country competitive." Unfortunately, that message doesn't quite mesh with a company that, as Fortune notes, pays just a little above the federal poverty line for a family of four. That doesn't quite match up with the president's call for "a better bargain for the middle class."

Of course, pay isn't everything — but Amazon hasn't received high marks on workplace conditions, either. Several reports have documented the rough working life for Amazon's "fulfillment center" employees, which depict an unsustainable work pace, job insecurity, and in some cases dangerous overheating due to lack of air conditioning. (The heat issue was so bad in some warehouses that Amazon arranged to have ambulances at the ready for employees suffering from heat stress.) For some living in depressed towns, Amazon warehouse jobs may be the best bet. As one Amazon worker told The Financial Times, "I very much want [Amazon] to stay, but equally I would like some of the worst employment practices to end."

In his speech, Obama outlines the areas he believes the country needs to focus on "if we want to create good jobs that pay good wages in durable industries." Among these priorities, listed in order of mention, are: manufacturing and high-tech jobs, infrastructure jobs, and clean energy jobs. So which priority does a job at one of Amazon's warehouses fulfill?