Amazon condemns Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for 'starvation wages' comment

Company touts $15 minimum wage, benefits in tweet

By Jordan Valinsky, CNN Business
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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticized Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for being a billionaire while his company pays its warehouse workers "starvation wages." Amazon says Ocasio-Cortez is "just wrong."

In an interview with ABC News' "This Week," the New York Democrat blasted Amazon, claiming low worker pay contributes to Bezos' status as the world's richest person.

Amazon retorted in a tweet Monday saying the company pays a $15 minimum wage and offers full benefits on employees' first days on the job. The company also noted that it has lobbied to raise the federal minimum wage.

In the interview with "This Week," Ocasio-Cortez said she doesn't care if Bezos is a billionaire if Amazon pays workers a "living wage," along with benefits like guaranteed health care.

"If that's the case and Jeff Bezos is still a billionaire, that's one thing," she said. But if Bezos' billionaire status is "predicated on paying people starvation wages and stripping them of the ability to access health care," she said that's a problem.

ABC News anchor Jonathan Karl pressed Ocasio-Cortez about whether she does think the wages are why Bezos is a billionaire. She "certainly thinks it's part of the equation," she said, adding that she thinks Bezos should pay more in taxes and increase Amazon's benefits, including free college tuition and health care.

"These allegations are absurd," Amazon said in a statement. "Amazon associates receive industry-leading pay starting at $15 an hour. ...Amazon pre-pays 95% of continuing education tuition costs through its Career Choice program for associates who want to pursue in-demand careers."

Bezos net worth is roughly $117 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His vast wealth has come from owning about a sixth of Amazon's stock, which has grown 9620% since it made its public debut in 1997. Amazon has paid him an annual salary of just $81,840 since 1998, and he has never received a stock award.

Amazon and Bezos have increasingly come under scrutiny from government officials. Last week, Amazon responded to presidential hopeful Joe Biden about corporate taxes.

"I have nothing against Amazon, but no company pulling in billions of dollars of profits should pay a lower tax rate than firefighters and teachers. We need to reward work, not just wealth," the former Vice President tweeted, linking to a New York Times story about how Amazon got a rebate on its corporate taxes in 2018.

Shortly after, Amazon responded in a tweet.

"We've paid $2.6B in corporate taxes since 2016. We pay every penny we owe. Congress designed tax laws to encourage companies to reinvest in the American economy. We have. $200B in investments since 2011 & 300K US jobs. Assume VP Biden's complaint is w/ the tax code, not Amazon."

Amazon has publicly pushed to lower the taxes it owes. The company also avoided paying state sales taxes for years until its growing network of physical warehouses prompted it to do an about-face and collect them everywhere.

Last year, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all US employees. It also said its public policy team will begin lobbying for an increase in the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 an hour since 2009.

--CNN Business' Lydia DePillis contributed to this report.

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