Amazon adding 7,000 jobs in 13 states

Retail giant's announcement comes ahead of the President Obama's visit to its Chattanooga facility

Ricardo Sandoval places packages in the right shipping boxes at an Amazon.com fulfillment center, in Phoenix on Nov. 11, 2010. (Ross Franklin/AP)
Ross D. Franklin / AP

Amazon.com Inc. announced plans Monday to hire 7,000 workers in 13 states by adding employees in its U.S. distribution warehouses and customer service locations – part of growth strategy that will come at a financial cost in the near term.

The retail giant says it will add 5,000 full-time jobs at warehouses that currently employ about 20,000 workers who pack and ship orders, heating up competition with local retailers struggling to compete with the company’s fast delivery times.

The company will add an additional 2,000 positions within Amazon's customer service department, which include part-time and seasonal positions in Kentucky, North Dakota, Washington and West Virginia, according to The Associated Press.

Amazon, known to duck profit pressures in pursuit of growth, posted a quarterly loss on a 22 percent leap in revenue last week.

The news comes as President Barack Obama plans to visit an Amazon facility in Chattanooga, Tenn. Tuesday as part of a national economic messaging campaign launched in Illinois last Wednesday.

Obama discussed his second term plans on the U.S. economy in a speech at Knox College that was criticized by Republicans for being short on new policies to create jobs.

Amazon witnessed a number of recent moves to curb its dominance in the online retail market.

Last year, several states, including Texas and California, forced large online retailers to begin collecting a sales tax from state residents in response to extensive lobbying from brick-and-mortar retailers who complained about Amazon’s ability to charge lower prices.

But the measures, analysts say, may have backfired for large retailers who supported the legislation on online companies, according to the Financial Times. Amazon subsequently moved out of remote areas and opened more distribution centers in urban centers closer to its competition, quickening delivery times where many of its customers are based.

Some say Amazon's increased delivery speed comes at a cost. Recent reports criticizing working conditions within the company's distribution centers speak of systemic labor abuse, according to American Rights at Work, a labor rights advocacy organization.

"There is a difference between jobs and good jobs," Ori Korin, press secretary at American Rights at Work, told Al Jazeera. Amazon's warehouse jobs "aren't jobs you can support a family off," she added, since "the hours are often insane, workers make very little money, and the working conditions aren't good."

In an Amazon distribution facility in Pennsylvania, workers complained about high temperatures that reached over 110 degrees over the summer two years ago, where one worker said it was like "working in a convection oven while blow-drying your hair," according to Lehigh Valley’s The Morning Call.

Petitions on websites like Change.org demand that Amazon's management end these "sweatshop conditions" immediately.

Amazon, meanwhile, claims that it is safer to work at a distribution center than at a department store, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and internal reports which it declined to share.

"The top priority of a fulfillment center is safety," Amazon's public relations office told Al Jazeera.

Amazon also says that the median pay of its distribution center workers is 30 percent higher than wages at traditional retail stores and that the company provides a range of benefits, including paid time off, as well as life and disability insurance.

Amazon's hiring binge follows previous announcements that the company is planning to open several distribution centers across the country, including two in New Jersey and California, in an attempt to be closer to its customers.

New distribution center jobs will be available in Texas, Arizona, Delaware, California, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

With Al Jazeera and wire services

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