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Amazon says it now has more than 1 million employees

Unemployment in a tough job market
Unemployment in a tough job market 04:53

Amazon.com said it now has about 1 million employees after hiring 250,000 workers in the third quarter, part of a growth spurt driven by booming ecommerce sales during the coronavirus pandemic and a milestone for a company founded in 1995 by Jeff Bezos as an online bookseller. 

Amazon.com has since expanded into almost every corner of the retail sector, ranging from its own line of clothing to grocery stores. Despite its rapid ascent, Amazon still has fewer workers than the nation's biggest private employer, Walmart, which has 2.2 million global workers. 

Even so, Amazon's explosive growth underscores the historic shift in financial might from manufacturers such as General Motors, U.S. Steel and General Electric. In the 1950s, these three corporations were the country's biggest employers, with a combined workforce of more than 1 million employees at the time. Today, the three employ about 400,000 workers as the U.S. economy has shed factory jobs in favor of service-oriented work.  

The pandemic is also pushing the labor market in new directions. Businesses such as grocery stores that sell household basics like groceries or cleaning supplies have seen a surge in demand as Americans hunkered down at home this spring. But industries that cater to tourists, such as hospitality and travel, have suffered as consumers cut back travel plans amid the pandemic. 

"There is no doubt that Amazon's latest results show it continues to be a winner from disruption caused by the pandemic," said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData, by email. "Amazon is in a very strong position to expand parts of its operation like logistics and delivery."

Amazon plans hiring spree 00:24

In a conference call on Thursday, Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said the company hired "a lot more people to support the strong customer demand."

After hiring 250,000 full-time and part-time workers in the quarter ended in September, Amazon has hired another 100,000 workers in October, he said. The jobs pay a minimum of $15 an hour and include benefits such as health insurance, retirement benefits and parental leave, he added. 

At the same time, other big employers are having mass layoffs, including Disney, which last month said it would cut 28,000 workers as its theme parks struggle to regain their footing. Claims for unemployment benefits remain historically high, and more than 22 million Americans are receiving jobless benefits. 

Backlash over work policies

Even amid its hiring spree during the pandemic, Amazon faced a backlash over its employment practices, with some warehouse workers protesting the company's policies and what some claimed to be foot-dragging by the company on protecting employees from COVID-19.

In June, some warehouse workers sued the retailer for allegedly failing to provide protections against the coronavirus, such as adequate supplies to sanitize workspaces. One worker claimed she contracted COVID-19 at the warehouse and subsequently infected her cousin, who died after experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms. 

Such controversies haven't dented Amazon's growth. On Thursday, Amazon reported record profit and revenue during the third quarter. The company reported a $6.3 billion profit in the three months ending September 30, nearly triple its earnings in the year-ago period.

The online shopping giant is also expecting a big end to the year as the holiday shopping season picks up. Amazon said it expects fourth-quarter sales to rise as much as 38% from a year ago to between $112 billion and $121 billion.

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