Amazon Takes Heat for Giving Employees 'Thank You' T-shirts As It Cuts Hazard Pay
Amazon has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of U.S. coronavirus shutdowns, continuing operations mostly unabated while most brick-and-mortar competitors have been forced to close. CEO Jeff Bezos' net worth has increased by $29 billion since the start of 2020, according to Bloomberg, and the company has hired 175,000 workers to keep up with surging orders. Amazon also implemented various new policies for employees in its fulfillment centers, including unlimited time off and a $2 hourly hazard pay increase, along with various safety precautions.
Now, with its supply chain back in order and America gradually reopening, Amazon is phasing out some of those new policies, with the $2 wage hike set to expire at the end of May. At the same time, the company issued branded T-shirts as a thank you for fulfillment center employees, a gesture that, according to Business Insider, wasn't entirely well received.
"With states opening up and over 21 cases at our warehouse so far and at least one death at the Indianapolis warehouse, it's a slap in the face," one Indiana-based Amazon employee told the publication.
— Martin Kleiner 🧻 (@kleinergag) May 18, 2020
Using branded gear for employee recognition is common, and in most cases, highly effective. But given the current situation at Amazon and in the U.S. at large, it's easy to see why this particular move might not sit well with some Amazon workers. Eight of the company's warehouse employees have died from COVID-19, and employees have voiced serious concerns about working conditions, culminating in a national "sick out" protest in April.
Now, as the country reopens with new coronavirus cases still increasing in some states, Amazon is phasing out a hazard pay raise many employees already considered largely inadequate. And the company has already faced plenty of criticism about warehouse working conditions, even before the pandemic. So it's easy to see why some employees weren't exactly thrilled with the T-shirts.
"All I can say was that it felt like they are trying to change the narrative that is reflected in the news, as it looks negatively upon the company," one Texas-based Amazon employee told Business Insider. "While I hate to sound ungrateful for anything, putting a big 'thank you' on the shirt was a clear indication they wanted to sway our thoughts. It just didn't feel sincere."
This is as good a reminder as any that more goes into a promotional product than just the branding on the item. If the messaging isn't consistent with the issuer's overall policies or mission, an otherwise well-meaning giveaway can have the opposite effect on recipients.