Amazon to keep most of the jobs it added during pandemic

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Amazon.com Inc. plans to keep most of the U.S. jobs it added to meet demand in March and April as housebound Americans turned to online deliveries.

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Amazon said Thursday it will give 125,000 of those 175,000 temporary workers the option to stay on full time, signaling that it expects the recent growth to continue. The company said the jobs will supplement its total U.S. count, which it recently put at more than 500,000.

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As companies across industries have shed millions of jobs during the pandemic, Amazon, Walmart Inc. and others that provide essential goods have been among the few adding workers. Most, however, were temporary hires.

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U.S. unemployment surged to a record 14.7% last month, and payrolls dropped by a historic 20.5 million workers, wiping out a decade of job gains in a single month.

“Like other companies, we brought those individuals on in seasonal roles to meet a surge in demand and, for many, there was the hope of returning back to their previous companies once states began to reopen,” Amazon said. “Some may choose to return back to their pre-Covid job and others may choose to stay at Amazon in seasonal roles or part-time roles.”

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Amazon began its hiring spree in March after customers sheltering in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus flooded it with orders for toilet paper, food, household products and other necessities.

Amazon fulfillment center / Associated Press

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, has added more than 235,000 workers since mid-March, most in temporary positions, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said earlier this month. The company hasn’t indicated whether it would make the positions permanent.

The 125,000 jobs are more than Amazon would typically add during those months, a spokeswoman said, without providing details. She said the shift to permanent is related to the demand the company has seen.

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As demand surged, some workers at Amazon’s more than 500 U.S. warehouses stopped showing up. Some were fearful of working during the pandemic and others decided to make use of leave policies the company put in place. Workers at several warehouses have held walkouts to protest what they have said are unsafe working conditions.

In this March 30, 2020 file photo, workers at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Staten Island, N.Y., gather outside to protest work conditions in the company’s warehouse in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File )

Amazon said it is investing more than $4 billion in coronavirus-related expenses, including for personal protective equipment, cleaning of facilities and an initiative to test employees for the coronavirus.

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Retailers typically hire temporary workers at warehouses and stores in the run-up to the holiday shopping season. Though some are normally given the chance to continue permanently once the season is over, it is unusual for many to be kept. Demand during the pandemic has been near peak holiday levels for Amazon, Walmart and other retailers.

The Amazon spokeswoman said the 125,000 figure is based on the long-term need of warehouses, and added that the 175,000 temporary hires include delivery drivers who work for third-party companies, which make their own decisions about how many to keep.

Although the company has gained better control of demand, “we still definitely have a need for more employees,” the spokeswoman said.

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