Thursday, October 28, 2021
Oct. 28, 2021

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Amazon workforce split along lines of race, gender

Critics say racial divide between tech, warehouse workers


SEATTLE — More than 60 percent of the nearly 400,000 U.S. workers Amazon hired into its lowest-paying hourly roles between 2018 and 2020 were Black or Hispanic, and more than half were women, according to new employee demographic data for the years 2019 and 2020.

Meanwhile, the company’s highest-paid tiers remain overwhelmingly white or Asian and male, despite some progress on hiring a more diverse workforce in recent years, according to the data, which Amazon reports annually to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. The company stopped releasing EEOC data in 2016, but agreed to resume doing so after New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer threatened to oppose Amazon’s board of directors candidates at the company’s 2021 shareholder meeting if the company did not disclose the information.

The new figures seem to underscore concerns from some employees and observers that a racial divide lies between the company’s corporate and tech workers and its warehouse workers. While Amazon was one of the first large employers in the country to offer a $15 minimum wage — its average starting wage is now $18 — the wealth generated by the company has largely not trickled down to its hourly workers, those employees say.

As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s fortune grew $86 billion during the pandemic, “we’re living paycheck to paycheck,” Jennifer Bates, an Amazon warehouse worker, testified at a Senate hearing on wage inequality in March. Bates was one of the leaders of the failed union push at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Ala. Racial inequities were at the forefront of the union campaign; nearly 80 percent of the employees in the Bessemer warehouse are Black, including Bates.

Amazon spokesperson Jaci Anderson disputed that the EEOC data provides new ammunition for those who argue racial inequities exist at the e-commerce giant. The data is not the best tool for understanding Amazon’s demographic makeup, she said, because the company is required to follow the federal government’s reporting guidelines for job classifications, which do not exactly mirror Amazon’s job divisions. And Amazon’s warehousing and logistics wing gives workers a range of opportunities, Anderson noted, from entry-level positions packing merchandise to technical and managerial roles.

Amazon’s own demographic data shows that in 2020, nearly 63 percent of its warehouse and call center workers were Black, Latino, Native American or multiracial, while just over 18 percent of its corporate and tech workers were.

Nor does the EEOC data Amazon released Wednesday contain information on workers’ salaries. Base salaries for corporate and tech positions, though, typically hover around $125,000 to $150,000, plus lucrative share grants, according to documents from Amazon’s second headquarters search and an analysis of salaries in Amazon’s H-1B visa applications.

Amazon’s hourly workers typically earn $38,000 a year, if they work full time, according to the company’s 2021 proxy filing. Many Amazon warehouse workers are part-timers, pulled onto the job for two or three months around the holidays or the company’s annual Prime Day sales event.

Amazon has made progress in diversifying its executive ranks, Anderson added. Between 2019 and 2020, people of color accounted for 42 percent of the additions to Amazon’s 2,600 highest-ranking employees, the EEOC data shows, and the number of Black senior leaders at Amazon more than doubled. Amazon employed 98 Black execs in 2020, compared to 39 the year before. The company has said it will again double the number of Black executives at the company in 2021.

Some corporate workers, meanwhile, have said Amazon is not moving quickly enough to hire, promote or retain a diverse workforce. The company is facing lawsuits from six women alleging racial and sexual discrimination at the company.