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Amazon accuses Sen. Bernie Sanders of misrepresenting worker pay, tells workers to send him positive stories

Rep. Joaquin Castro Holds News Conference On Immigrants Separated From Children Photo by Alex Edelman / Getty Images

Amazon has issued a statement defending itself from criticism by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is preparing a bill that will tax companies for money spent on their employees’ food stamps and other low-wage benefits. Amazon claims Sanders has made “misleading statements about pay and benefits” at the company, and it says it’s encouraging employees to contact Sanders with their positive experiences.

The statement repeats several of Amazon’s previous comments about worker pay at its fulfillment centers. It touts the company’s “highly competitive wages and a climate controlled, safe workplace” and says that many employees who qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, known until 2008 as the Food Stamp Program) worked part-time or were only briefly employed at Amazon.

Sanders discussed his bill yesterday in an interview with TechCrunch, where he said that “many, many thousands of Amazon workers in their warehouses throughout the country are earning very low wages.” He said that while collecting data was difficult, “from what information we’ve gathered, one out of three Amazon workers in Arizona, as we understand it, are on public assistance. They are receiving either Medicaid, food stamps or public housing.” Amazon didn’t specifically address this statistic.

Sanders’ site includes a form for Amazon workers to submit experiences with the company. While it references negative experiences, Amazon posted a tweet from Amazon head of global operations Dave Clark, who is encouraging employees to write to Sanders if they’re not receiving SNAP aid. Amazon recently launched an “ambassador” program where fulfillment center employees defend the company’s working conditions on Twitter.

Sanders’ bill isn’t specifically anti-Amazon, and other major companies — particularly Walmart, another frequent Sanders target — force large numbers of low-wage employees to rely on SNAP and other programs. But Sanders is drawing attention to a recurring sore spot for Amazon, which has defended itself against numerous reports of rigid micromanagement, low pay, and dangerous warehouse conditions. The state of Indiana fined it for safety violations last year after a worker was crushed by a forklift.

Sanders responded by defending his claims and calling on Amazon to release more information about its worker pay, especially for people it hires through temporary staffing agencies. “Amazon’s median employee pay is only $28,446 — 9 percent less than the industry average and well below what constitutes a living wage in the United States,” he said in a statement. “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.” He plans to introduce his tax bill on September 5th.

Update 1:00PM ET: Updated with statement from Sanders.