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Amazon has embarked on an extraordinary hiring binge this year, vacuuming up an average of 1,400 new workers a day. Image Credit: AP

Seattle: Amazon has embarked on an extraordinary hiring binge this year, vacuuming up an average of 1,400 new workers a day and solidifying its power as online shopping becomes more entrenched in the coronavirus pandemic.

The hiring has taken place at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, at its hundreds of warehouses in rural communities and suburbs, and in countries such as India and Italy. Amazon added 427,300 employees between January and October, pushing its workforce to more than 1.2 million people globally, up more than 50 per cent from a year ago. Its number of workers now approaches the entire population of Dallas.

The spree has accelerated since the onset of the pandemic, which has turbocharged Amazon’s business and made it a winner of the crisis. Starting in July, the company brought on about 350,000 employees, or 2,800 a day. Most have been warehouse workers, but Amazon has also hired software engineers and hardware specialists to power enterprises such as cloud computing, streaming entertainment and devices, which have boomed in the pandemic.

The scale of hiring is even larger than it may seem because the numbers do not account for employee churn nor do they include the 100,000 temporary workers who have been recruited for the holiday shopping season. They also do not include what internal documents show as roughly 500,000 delivery drivers, who are contractors and not direct Amazon employees.

Competitors - both with physical stores and online ones - are trying to figure out how to compete with Amazon on Black Friday and into what has traditionally been a busy end-of-year sales period, but which has been upended by the pandemic. Amazon is dominant in e-commerce, where sales are expected to grow by as much as 30% over last year’s holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.

Unrivaled job growth

Amazon’s rapid employee growth is unrivaled in the history of corporate America. It far outstrips the 230,000 employees that Walmart, the largest private employer with more than 2.2 million workers, added in a single year two decades ago. The closest comparisons are the hiring that entire industries carried out in wartime, such as shipbuilding during the early years of World War II or homebuilding after soldiers returned, economists and corporate historians said.

“It’s hiring like mad,” Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said of Amazon. “No American company has hired so many workers so quickly.”

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Even for a company that regularly sets new superlatives, Amazon’s employee growth stands out as a stark illustration of its might. At this pace, it is on track to surpass Walmart within two years to become the world’s largest private employer.

Its expansion is unfolding as lawmakers and regulators in Washington and Europe have sounded the alarm over tech power. This month, European Union regulators brought antitrust charges against Amazon, accusing it of unfairly using its size and access to data to harm smaller merchants in its marketplace. Amazon has said merchants are thriving on its site, with their share of sales growing in the pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission is also examining the company, with President-elect Joe Biden expected to continue scrutinizing the tech giants.