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Amazon offers to cover full college tuition costs for 750,000 U.S. hourly workers

Labor Secretary on job market, end of benefits
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh on job market, end of unemployment benefits 03:44

Amazon on Thursday said it will pay for full college tuition for its 750,000 U.S. hourly employees, expanding its education benefit at a time when employers are struggling to hire workers amid a tight labor market. The retailer said it will fund full college tuition for workers who have been at the company for more than 90 days. 

The company said the offer makes all of the 400,000 workers that it has hired since the start of the pandemic eligible for the benefit when it goes into effect in January. The new educational program will also pay for high school diplomas, GEDs, and English as a Second Language (ESL) proficiency certifications, the company said. 

While Amazon has been buoyed by demand for online shopping during the pandemic, and swiftly grown to become the nation's second-largest private employer, it's also battled allegations about worker conditions, such as a lawsuit filed by New York State alleging that the company failed to protect workers from COVID-19. Some workers have also claimed that warehouse conditions are driven by demanding quotas and algorithms that make it difficult to find time to use a restroom, an issue that is now targeted by lawmakers in California who want to place limits on warehouse production quotas.

At the same time, wages for low-paid workers are rising across the nation as employers struggle to recruit amid a labor shortage due to the pandemic. While some businesses have blamed pandemic unemployment benefits — which ended on Labor Day — the nation's labor force still hasn't recovered to its pre-pandemic size. About 161.5 million people are working today, compared with 164.5 million before COVID shut down the economy. 

The e-commerce giant previously offered educational benefits, but they were only available to workers who had been at the company for one year. It also had paid 95% of costs, but had a limit of $3,000 for each full-time employee, according to the left-leaning Century Foundation.

Amazon said Thursday it will pay employees' tuition and fees in advance instead of reimbursing after coursework has been completed, which it said would help employees who otherwise might not have the money to jump into an education program.

Amazon's new program follows similar moves by rival retailers, including Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, and Target. Last month, Target said it would offer its 340,000 U.S.-based employees the chance to go to college for free, while bigger retail rival Walmart has made the same arrangement for its 1.5 million workers. 

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