Amazon denies Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s claim it pays warehouse workers ‘starvation wages’

Andrew Buncombe

Amazon has rejected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‘s claim it pays its workers “starvation wages”, saying the New York congresswoman is “just wrong”.

Speaking over the weekend, the 29-year-old said she was less worried about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos being the richest person in the world, than if he was paying his workers a living wage.

“Whether Jeff Bezos is a billionaire or not is less of my concern than if your average Amazon worker is making a living wage, if they have guaranteed health care and if they can send their kids to college tuition-free,” she told ABC News.

“If his being a billionaire is predicated on paying people starvation wages and stripping them of their ability to access health care, and also if his ability to be a billionaire is predicated on the fact that his workers take food stamps…[then taxpayers are ] paying for him to be a billionaire.”

On Monday, Amazon, which for many years was criticised over the wages it paid warehouse staff, rejected the congresswoman’s claim.

“@AOC is just wrong. Amazon is a leader on pay at $15 min wage + full benefits from day one,” the company tweeted. “We also lobby to raise federal minimum wage.”

Last year, Bernie Sanders, whom Ms Ocasio-Cortez campaigned for during the 2016 presidential contest, introduced legislation to tax large companies the full amount their workers were forced to be subsidised in the form of food stamps and state and federal benefits. He took aim in particular at Amazon, whose founder is said to be worth $150bn and yet has paid warehouse workers as little as $10 an hour.

“At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, when the 3 wealthiest people in America own more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent and when 52 per cent of all new income goes to the top one per cent, the American people are tired of subsidising multi-billionaires who own some of the largest and most profitable corporations in America,” Mr Sanders said when he introduced the legislation.

The following month, Amazon said it had decided to pay all its workers a minimum of $15 an hour, which many campaigners say it still to little to qualify as a living wage.

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” said Mr Bezos. “We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”

The comment over the weekend did not represent the first time Ms Ocasio-Cortez has placed Amazon, which in 2018 paid no federal taxes for the second years in succession, in her sights.

Last year, she was among those campaigning for the company not to bring its so-called second headquarters to a location on New York’s Long Island City. She said it was wrong to pay the e-commerce giant up to $3.4bn in tax breaks and grants to complete the move.