Amazon, one of the most powerful companies in the world, makes about $232.89 billion every year. An enormous tech entity that includes a massive e-commerce business, a cloud computing platform, a fleet of cargo airplanes, and its very own shopping holiday, Amazon wields enough power that it can make cities bow down at the prospect of housing one of its campuses. It employs more than 647,000 people around the globe, with over 45,000 working out of its corporate headquarters in Seattle.
But for all of its power, cash, and office perks, there are still many things Amazon doesn’t give its employees; one of them is help with emergency child care. And this is something a group of moms working at Amazon is currently fighting for.
According to an internal memo viewed by Bloomberg, a group of employees who call themselves the “Momazonians” are currently trying to convince Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to offer backup day care, a work benefit where an employer helps pitch in for day care when someone’s primary source for child care falls through.
The mothers, Bloomberg reports, are expected to meet with senior management in the coming weeks over the issue. While plenty of working women face the issue of finding safe, reliable, and affordable child care, Amazon employees bringing up this issue is particularly compelling because they work for a company that has seemingly unlimited resources.
The topic of child care is a major pain point for working parents generally. Child care is expensive, and tracking down convenient options is not easy. The odds are also stacked against low-income families, who might lack funds or local choices.
All these obstacles become even more pressing when there’s a lack of emergency options in child care. Parents often miss work to cover for child care, which affects their productivity and reputation in the long run.
Child care has become a hot-button issue in American culture, particularly on the campaign trail, coming up as talking points for presidential candidates including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren. Most recently, Warren unveiled a new plan for universal child care, which would be paid for by a new tax on millionaires. The Amazon employees are just the latest group to bring this country-wide issue to the surface.
The case for offering backup day care
Snow days forcing schools to cancel, day care centers closing for maintenance, nannies calling out sick — there are all sorts of child care issues that working parents must navigate in addition to staying on top of their demanding workload.
Research from the Economic Policy Institute has found that child care in the US can cost up to 36 percent of a family’s income. A financial stressor like this becomes even more exacerbated when child care falls through and employees don’t have family members nearby to lean on. Relatively few companies allow their employers to work from home, and parents who are absent from work because of child care troubles often face workplace disruptions that can lead to a loss in productivity or discipline.
Per Care@Work, an online service pairing families and caregivers, there are typically two types of backup care options that employers can offer: in-home care or in-center care. With the former, an employer selects a pool of at-home caregivers that it sends to employees’ homes during temporary disruptions in child care. For in-center care systems, employers typically reserve a number of spots at local day care centers and employees are able to drop off their kids when they need to. Backup care doesn’t only apply to children: The benefit is also for employees caring for spouses, partners, or family members recovering from an illness, or for aging family members.
And while there are no doubt plenty of working fathers at Amazon, the fact that a group of mothers are stepping up to their boss is telling. Because when it comes to careers and motherhood, women are way more likely to take a hit.
Women in general, of course, struggle to be compensated in the workplace to the same degree as their male peers. But they are also less likely to get promoted, according to McKinsey, and are also judged far more harshly than men for their career ambitions.
Factor parenthood into the equation and the struggle becomes even more difficult. The Pew Research Center has found that women are more likely than men to adjust their career paths for family life. Women are more likely to pass up career promotions than men because they are thinking of their children at home (if not questioning their careers as a whole). A study from Princeton University last year even found that the gender wage gap at work can really just be considered “a child care penalty,” as Vox’s Sarah Kliff put it, because women in the workplace play a dire price once they start having children — something fathers don’t face.
How companies can help with employee child care options — and benefit from them
Child care is obviously a perk for employees, but it benefits companies as well. Patagonia, for example, has an on-site child care center. The outdoors retailer boasts that it has a retention rate of 100 percent for its working moms, as opposed to the typical American business, which sees 20 to 35 percent of mothers never going back to their jobs after their child is born. Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario has also advocated that other companies take on child care as a corporate responsibility, arguing that the expense essentially pays for itself, since it results in unprecedented employee loyalty. Prudential, Johnson & Johnson, and Home Depot have on-site day care centers too, which helps make them attractive employers.
Tech companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple have long offered backup care for their employees, and they are frequently cited as employers with a parent’s best interests in mind. According to the Harvard Business Review, these companies get credit because they are investing in “the benefit that matters most for employee retention.”
In October 2018, Starbucks announced that it would provide the perk for its baristas, regardless if they are part-time or full-time. Starbucks employees can now pay $1 an hour for backup child care at home, or $5 a day for in-center care.
“This is giving our partners resources for things that happen in regular life,” Ron Crawford, vice president of benefits at Starbucks, said in a statement. “We wanted to give them something to help fill in the gaps.”
Per Care@Work, only about 8 percent of large companies and 4 percent of small businesses offer this type of coverage. But if there’s any company that could entertain such a perk, it’s Amazon.
It has the cash to fund this sort of initiative, as well as striking discrepancies between lower-level employee and executive income. The company also maintains notoriously high expectations for its workers, so making the case that backup care could fill in the cracks where parents are missing work might be appealing.
In a statement to Vox regarding the issue, Amazon said:
We are proud to offer valuable, competitive benefits to our over 250,000 US employees — including hourly, salaried, corporate, and operations - from $15 minimum wage, to 401(k) matching, flexible parental leave and health benefits starting on the first day at work. For example, we provide comprehensive fertility benefits, memberships and discounts for child care services, and flexible parental leave programs that provide birth parents up to 20 weeks of paid leave and non-birth parents up to six weeks of parental leave. At Amazon, everyone, regardless of their position, level or tenure, has access to the same benefits - there are no tiers, and no employee is more important than another. When creating benefits, we focus on efforts that can scale to help the largest number of individuals, and work in partnership with our employees to ensure that what we are building offers meaningful support.
Amazon is not a company that’s been known to bend to social causes — not when it was faced with a tax to help Seattle’s homeless and not when it was called on to stop providing facial recognition technology to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But it has caved to some pressures in the past — most notably, raising its hourly rate to $15 an hour after being criticized for its poor warehouse work conditions and low wages. If the Momazonians can, indeed, make the case that providing backup child care would benefit Amazon’s bottom line in the long run, and if the cultural zeitgeist pushes Amazon to consider helping parents with this extra perk, perhaps the company could concede.
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