Amazon touts jobs record as congressional scrutiny intensifies

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Amazon has promoted 35,000 workers this year and plans to add as many as 100,000 temporary employees during the lucrative holiday shopping season, figures that illustrate the economic power wielded by CEO Jeff Bezos as the e-commerce giant he founded faces growing government scrutiny.

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In a Tuesday announcement that showcased its labor-market performance, the Seattle-based company tacitly underscored its significance as the U.S. grapples with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The COVID-19 pandemic and measures to counter it have left 12 million Americans out of work and choked restaurants and bars with social-distancing requirements that keep many of them from breaking even, much less turning a profit.

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Many of the seasonal workers Amazon is hiring will have opportunities for permanent positions in the company, which Bezos founded as an online bookstore in the late 1990s.

Positions will be in Amazon's vast operations network–including selecting items in its order-fulfillment centers as well as packing, shipping and delivering orders–the company said, and many come with the possibility of bonus payments.

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"We believe in providing our employees with great jobs and better futures," Alicia Boler Davis, vice president of global customer fulfillment, said in a statement. "We’re proud to see our employees grow through promotions to the next level" as well as benefit from programs such as Career Choice that help them pursue in-demand occupations, she added.

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With a workforce of more than 876,000 as of the end of June, Amazon posted sales of $163.4 billion in the first half of this year, benefiting from nationwide lockdowns that left many shoppers reluctant to visit brick-and-mortar stores and more likely to make purchases online.

Its success hasn't gone unnoticed, particularly in Washington, where Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee published a staff report this month examining anticompetitive practices by Amazon and Silicon Valley standouts including Apple, Facebook and Google parent Alphabet.

Photographer: Thorsten Wagner/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The analysis, which explored whether Amazon has undercut the merchants using its platforms, cited numerous complaints of bullying from third-party sellers among findings that prompted Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline to urge legislative action.

"Companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons," Nadler and Cicilline wrote in a foreword to the report. "These firms typically run the marketplace while also competing in it — a position that enables them to write one set of rules for others, while they play by another, or to engage in a form of their own private quasi-regulation that is unaccountable to anyone but themselves."

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Such views might become more actionable if Democrats take control of the White House and the Senate in next week's elections. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, has previously said she would break up Amazon and other tech companies.

A split government wouldn't be free from risks for the company either. On the Republican side, both Bezos and Amazon have been frequent targets for President Trump, who has accused the Seattle-based company of paying too little in taxes and complained of unfavorable coverage in the Washington Post, which Bezos — the richest person in the world — owns separately.

Trump's Justice Department recently filed a wide-ranging antitrust case against Google, and Amazon is facing investigations by the Federal Trade Commission as well as the European Commission.

Still, the lack of agreement on appropriate regulatory measures in the U.S. is a point in the company's favor so far, Mark Haefele, chief investment officer for global wealth management at Swiss bank UBS, wrote in a report earlier this month.

"We view the apparent limited momentum toward a more extreme 'breakup' approach as a neutral to positive to this risk," he wrote.

While that plays out, Amazon employees are happy to take advantage of the earnings and advancement opportunities the e-commerce giant offers.

“I had worked in a warehouse setting for years but knew I wanted to help people and had been curious about healthcare," said Patricia Soto, a former Amazon worker who went through Career Choice, a program in which Amazon invested $60 million that partners with colleges to help employees reach their occupational goals.

"In just nine months, I became a certified clinical medical assistant while working at Amazon in Tracy, California, thanks to Career Choice,” she added. “A career in healthcare would have been difficult to obtain without tuition support from Amazon and an internship opportunity to apply my new skills."

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