FOX 13 investigates big incentives for Amazon jobs

- State and local governments have offered Amazon millions in public incentives to expand and hire in Florida. While Governor Scott and Tampa Bay area leaders have praised Amazon for fueling our economy, President Trump has strongly criticized Amazon and accused it of costing jobs.

Meanwhile some of Amazon’s current and former employees say the starting pay of around $11 an hour leaves them struggling to make ends meet. 

We asked Florida politicians to address some of those concerns -- not to question Amazon’s success (it is one of the most successful companies in the world), or its right to legally pay whatever wages that drive its success. We wanted to find out how well our state and county leaders thought through their decisions to give Amazon millions in public incentives in light of the concerns raised by President Trump and others. 

President Trump tweeted, "Amazon is doing great damage to tax paying retailers. Towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt - many jobs being lost!"

Meanwhile, some who have worked for Amazon say some of the positions we get in exchange for public incentives can drain taxpayers, because the employees who get the positions also get public assistance. 

We met a former employee who told us off-camera she was dependent on food stamps while she worked for Amazon. We met with an Amazon employee at his government-subsidized apartment, who says he is caught in a cycle of payday loans, and is also considering applying for food stamps. 

Another former Tampa Bay area Amazon employee, Chris Grantham, said he knows several former co-workers who needed help.

“The pay is relatively poor," he said. "You have to offset the amount of money that you're pumping into the economy with these jobs, with the amount of money that the employees that work there are taking out of the economy by using public assistance."

Florida politicians have given a lot of companies job incentives, but they taken a particularly strong interest in Amazon -- giving out more than $48-million in incentives, according to the tax watchdog 'Good Jobs First'.

Governor Scott and his administration did not accept our request for an interview. Neither did the five sitting Hillsborough commissioners who approved millions in incentives for Amazon: commissioners Hagan, Miller, Crist, Murman, and Higginbotham. 

RELATED: Behind the scenes of an Amazon warehouse

Polk County did agree with speak with us. Polk gave Amazon a break on land that brought in very little tax money before, and they reeled it in when Amazon did not deliver the jobs they expected. 

"I don't think there's anything we can do other than docking their incentive," said Polk Commission Chairwoman Melony Bell. 

Commissioner George Lindsey said Amazon did bring jobs, and he's thankful for it.  

"So what's the alternative: No job, or a $7-an-hour job?” he asked. “I would much rather have an $11- or $12-an-hour job than no job."

Amazon responded with a statement, noting its wages relative to other retailers and benefits, which include tuition assistance and paid leave for working families. 

Amazon’s statement: 

“Amazon offers highly competitive hourly wages, in fact, median pay inside Amazon fulfillment centers is 30 percent higher than that of people who work in traditional retail stores. In addition, regular, full-time fulfillment center employees receive comprehensive benefits starting on day one that include health care, 401(k) with 50 percent match, and company stock awards. The company also offers up to 20 weeks of paid leave and innovative benefits such as Leave Share and Ramp Back, which give new parents flexibility with their growing families. Leave Share lets employees share their Amazon paid leave with their spouse or domestic partner if their spouse’s employer doesn’t offer paid leave. Ramp Back gives new moms additional control over the pace at which they return to work. Just as with Amazon’s health care plan, these benefits are egalitarian – they’re the same for fulfillment center and customer service employees as they are for Amazon’s most senior executives. And, Amazon’s hourly employees are eligible for the Career Choice program where the company will pre-pay up to 95 percent of tuition for courses related to in-demand fields, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.”

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