On Wednesday job applicants lined up by the hundreds at the company’s gargantuan, robot-packed Kent building with the hopes of landing a position there or in other Amazon facilities in the Puget Sound area.
Amazon.com is looking to hire some 50,000 good women and men to pick, stow and pack items in its U.S. warehouses.
About 1,200 of those mostly permanent jobs are in Washington state. So on Wednesday — a day that the e-commerce giant declared “Amazon Jobs Day” — job applicants lined up by the hundreds at the company’s gargantuan, robot-filled Kent warehouse with the hopes of landing a position in one of the Amazon facilities in the Puget Sound area.
Irene Legaspi, an unemployed former lab technician from Auburn, was one of dozens standing in line in a parking lot as they waited to get into an air-conditioned tent that served as a vestibule to the 800,000-square-foot warehouse. She said she was looking for “whatever it is they have.”
“I hear they have really good benefits,” she said, referring to a benefits package that Amazon says is the same it offers corporate staffers at its gleaming Seattle headquarters.
That package includes a 401(k) retirement plan, stock, paid time off, generous parental benefits, and — in the case of warehouse workers — pay for specialized training if employees want to pursue in-demand, higher-paying jobs in fields such as nursing or truck driving.
Fifty-thousand people is a lot of new hires: It’s about as many people as Microsoft employs in the Seattle area. The number also underscores Amazon’s breakneck growth, a phenomenon that requires an ever burgeoning army of workers and machines. As of the end of June, the company employed some 382,400 people, 42 percent more than last year, and about 100,000 robots.
Amazon, which could add another 80,000 employees if its deal to buy Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion passes muster with regulators, is on track to become the second-largest employer among Fortune 500 companies, after Wal-Mart.
The fanfare surrounding Amazon Jobs Day, an event that was held simultaneously in 10 warehouses across the country, also highlights something else: Amazon’s increasing visibility when it comes to touting its role as a job creator.
It comes at a time when the 2-decade-old company’s increasing dominance in e-commerce and other fields seems to be drawing the attention of critics, rivals and politicians. Among the latter is President Donald Trump, who has lambasted Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO and founder and also owner of The Washington Post.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents retail workers, last week decried Amazon’s latest hiring binge by accusing it of destroying more jobs than it creates.
“While Amazon claims they’re creating 50,000 new jobs, they conveniently ignore how their business model, in addition to offering brutal working conditions inside their warehouses, will destroy tens of thousands — if not millions — of retail jobs through automation.”
The Progressive Policy Institute, a “New Democrat” think tank in Washington D.C., disagrees. A paper published by the institute last March concluded that e-commerce was adding jobs “much faster than the general retail sector is losing them.”
E-commerce added 355,000 jobs from 2007 to 2016 while 51,000 jobs were lost in general retail, the paper estimated.
Pay, at an average $21.13 per hour, is 27 percent higher than average hourly wages in general retail, it said.
According to an ad on Amazon’s website, a full-time warehouse associate in Kent gets paid $13.75 hourly. Another ad for a part-time shipping and receiving associate in Renton offers $14.25. According to Indeed.com, a jobs site, the average retail sales associate salary in Kent is $10.68 an hour.
Amazon received 20,000 job applications across the country Wednesday, a “record-breaking” number, John Olsen, the company’s vice president of worldwide operations human resources, said in a statement.
Thousands of job offers were extended Wednesday, and “more to come in the next few days,” he said.
The company didn’t provide specific numbers for Kent.
At the Kent facility, job seekers’ wait — first under a sunny, hazy sky, then in an air-conditioned tent — eventually led to a recruitment center full of laptop computers where candidates entered background information.
They were then led, wearing yellow vests, on a tour of the hangarlike fulfillment center, where thousands of Amazonians work at high speed.
Workers unload and unpack pallets from trucks and stow items on bright yellow shelves made of fabric, which are whisked away by orange robots to another part of the warehouse.
The shelves are then summoned by another Amazon worker who gets to pick items out for an order and send them on a conveyor belt farther down the line, where they will be prepared for shipment.
After the tour, the would-be recruits were taken to another room where they’d be interviewed, tested for drugs and have paperwork filled out. Some would be offered a job on the spot.
Nathaniel Heatherly, 23, a self-described “Army brat” from Puyallup, came out of the building saying he still had to “wait for further processing and information.”
He had applied to Amazon 12 times before with no success, he said, but his experience in a “wide array of jobs,” including as a stocker at Wal-Mart, would apply well to Amazon, he said.
Moments later, Cody Vike emerged from the same doorway, wearing a suit and tie. A carpenter, he arrived at the Amazon facility at 7:35 a.m. because he “always wanted to get into a better company.”
At 11 a.m., he had a job in hand. “I’m going to be a full-time warehouse associate,” he said.