Amazon, a Frequent Trump Target, Now Feuds With Bernie Sanders

(Bloomberg) -- Inc. has endured months of criticism and threats from Donald Trump. Now it’s feuding with a rival of the president, the progressive icon Senator Bernie Sanders.

Even as the retail giant neared a $1 trillion valuation on Wednesday, its company blog was taking aim at what it called "inaccurate and misleading accusations" by the Vermont senator and former presidential candidate, who has said he’ll introduce a bill requiring large employers such as Amazon and Walmart Inc. to pay a "living wage" or face a tax.

Trump and Sanders are polar opposites on most issues, and their criticisms of tech companies have produced no real policy changes so far. Still, they both have ardent followers, so any outbursts are a risk for the industry.

On Monday, Sanders’ Facebook page, which has criticized the company extensively, asked current and former Amazon employees to share stories of using "public assistance, such as food stamps, Medicaid or subsidized housing, in order to make ends meet." His proposed tax would reimburse the government for the cost of that public assistance. The post has 221 comments, although some were not the kind of stories Sanders requested.

Some did not offer personal accounts at all, and at least one poster said he was not unhappy with his compensation.

On Aug. 24, Sanders referred to Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos as a symbol of "inequality and greed." Bezos, the world’s richest man, is worth more than $159 billion.

On Wednesday, Amazon responded with its post, saying "Sanders plays politics and makes misleading accusations" and touting having created more than 130,000 jobs in 2017.

"The average hourly wage for a full-time associate in our fulfillment centers, including cash, stock, and incentive bonuses, is over $15/hour before overtime," the blog said, claiming that those who used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, "only worked for Amazon for a short period of time and/or chose to work part-time."

Amazon Head of Global Operations Dave Clark also emailed company leaders, according to the post, encouraging them and their teams to tell the truth about their experiences, and whether employees are on public assistance or not.

Sanders hit back in a statement, sharing anonymous anecdotes he said he had received and alleging "deeply disturbing stories about working conditions at fulfillment centers run by Amazon and its contractors." He has also long made complaints about Walmart’s treatment of its workers.

In 2016, Amazon faced a small fine from a federal agency for failing to report at least 26 work-related illnesses and injuries in a New Jersey warehouse, and in June, a contractor agreed to pay as much as $1.9 million to resolve allegations of wage-and-hour violations and retaliation at a storage facility that houses Amazon products, among others.

Sanders also announced he would visit one of the company’s Virginia fulfillment centers. The company tweeted that it was "glad" to hear about the visit. He said he would formally propose the legislation on Sept 5. A Sanders spokesman, Josh Miller-Lewis, said in an email it was not yet clear if anyone would cosponsor the legislation, although he pointed out that Democratic Representative Ro Khanna of California had introduced a companion bill in the House. It has nine cosponsors.

The back-and-forth stood in contrast to the company’s usual studied reticence when Trump targets it. He has claimed, without evidence, that taxpayers subsidize Amazon deliveries through the U.S. Postal Service. Another Trump criticism: That the company’s approach to taxation hurts small businesses. The president also often says that the Washington Post, which Bezos owns, treats him and his administration unfairly.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Trump accused Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. of anticonservative bias. The companies have previously denied such charges.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.