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Bernie Sanders, Amazon worker pay fight: warehouse industry comparison



amazon fulfillment centerMatt
Cardy/Getty Images

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders and Amazon are engaged in a war of
    words over worker pay at the retail giant.
  • Sanders has claimed that Amazon underpays its workers
    at the company’s fulfillment centers compared to the industry
    average, while Amazon argues its pay is competitive.
  • We compared Amazon salary estimates to pay in other

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Amazon are engaged in a war of words over
a significant question: Does the retail giant pay its employees

Sanders has attacked the company
for underpaying workers at
its massive fulfillment centers, where orders are processed and
packaged. Amazon,
however, has said it pays its workers
competitive salaries
and fair wages.

So who’s right?

The answer ultimately comes down to whose wages you’re comparing
Amazon’s with — and how you measure them. 

In its rebuttal to Sanders, Amazon claimed the average hourly
wage for a fulfillment center worker including “cash,
stock, and incentive bonuses” is $15 an hour.
did not, however, say how much fulfillment center workers make in
just salary absent incentives. The company did not respond to a
request for further comment. 

Meanwhile, a study from the Institute for Local
Self-Reliance, which was cited by Sanders, looked at 1,300 job
listings for Amazon fulfillment center positions. It found the
median pay for those openings was $12.32 an hour.

The company has also revealed that the salary for
Amazon employee is $28,446
, which shakes out to about $13.67
an hour. That’s imprecise, however, since it includes all Amazon
employees, but it offers a midpoint for our comparison.

Amazon also likes to compare their average worker pay to
“traditional retail stores,” which aids
the company’s claim
that its workers make “30% higher than
employees’ pay in traditional retail stores.”

Looking at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on
worker pay by occupation, we can parse out how much Amazon
employees earn compared to similar workers in other

  • According to BLS data, the median average hourly pay for
    a nonsupervisory retail worker at a general merchandise store
    like Target or Walmart made $12.63 an hour in 2017, or 18.8%
    less than Amazon said it pays fulfillment center workers
    (including bonuses and stock options). But the BLS data does
    not include bonuses, so that is not an apples-to-apples
  • Using the ILSR study’s estimate, Amazon fulfillment center
    employees make 2.5% less
    than traditional retail workers in
    big box stores.
  • Using the median Amazon employee
    salary, the fulfillment center workers made 8.2% more.

This appears to be the comparison Amazon is making when
referring to “traditional retailers,” but these workers are
employed at brick-and-mortar retail locations — like a Walmart

Amazon fulfillment centers, by contrast, do not have
storefronts and more closely mirror another BLS
Warehousing and Storage. Workers in this
category work in locations that do not make direct sales, like a
fulfillment center, and provide logistics for the delivery of
goods, also like a fulfillment center.

  • Nonsupervisory workers in this category made $16.82 an
    hour in 2017, and those employed as stock clerks and order
    fillers made $15.76 an hour.
  • Even when using Amazon’s $15 an hour calculation, the
    typical worker in Warehousing and Storage made 12% more than a
    fulfillment center employee, and the typical stock clerk made
    5.2% more.
  • Using the ILSR calculation, fulfillment workers made 36.5%
    less than all warehousing workers and 27.9% less than stock
    clerks. Using the median Amazon employee pay, the retailer’s
    workers made 23% less than general warehousing workers and 15.3%
    less than stock clerks.

The bottom line: Amazon workers likely make right around or
slightly above the industry average for workers in traditional
big box stores, but less than their counterparts working in
actual warehouses.

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