Amazon says 125,000 of its pandemic hires can remain as full-time workers

Amazon is offering full-time positions to most of the 175,000 temporary workers it’s brought on since March to meet the massive surge in consumer demand for retail deliveries as Americans hunker down during the coronavirus crisis

Casting its recent expansion as an effort to “keep as many people as possible working during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the retailer said it would offer regular roles with benefits to most of the hires at its roughly 500 warehouses and facilities across the country. 

The company’s labor announcement coincides with government figures showing more than three million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the count of workers who’ve lost jobs to 42 million since the coronavirus crippled the economy and killed more than 100,000 Americans.

“As the long-term picture becomes more clear, we’re providing the opportunity for 125,000 of those who came on with us seasonally to stay with Amazon and transition into a regular, full-time role beginning in June,” the company wrote in a blog post. “Some may choose to return to their previous job and others may choose to stay at Amazon in seasonal or part-time roles.”

Amazon — the country’s second-largest private employer — pays at least $15 an hour to its more than 500,000 workers.

Labor groups and lawmakers including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders have called out the company for its handling of worker safety and related issues both before and during the pandemic, with Amazon going to some lengths to deflect the criticism.

How Amazon is handling the coronavirus pandemic

Amazon has spent more than $800 million in the first half of 2020 on COVID-19 safety measures, including on personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning of its facilities, higher hourly wages and on developing its own testing capabilities, according to the company.

Its major competitor Walmart — the nation’s largest private employer — has also added workers during the pandemic, with the Arkansas-based retailer earlier this month reporting it had hired 235,000 new employees to keep pace with demand at its stores and warehouses.

While companies that have mastered online shopping and delivery of goods to homes have boomed during the pandemic, other retailers have not, especially those burdened with debt and heavy brick-and-mortar store costs.  

For the first four months of 2020, retailers have already cut more than 114,00 jobs, far outpacing any annual job cuts number in the industry and larger than the previous annual high of about 101,000 job cuts in 2003, according to outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. 

And large companies in other industries are cutting positions by the thousands, with American Airlines and Boeing among those announcing layoffs in recent days.