Amazon is spending $700 million retraining workers, but critics say it should attend to other housekeeping duties first

Amazon is spending $700 million to improve the job skills of workers.

Amazon announced Thursday it would investing that sum to retrain 100,000 U.S. workers, which is roughly one-third of its U.S. staff. The initiative will stretch through 2025 and the programs will allow workers to move into “highly skilled technical and non-technical roles” in corporate offices, warehouses, retail stores and elsewhere. Participating workers don’t have to stay at Amazon AMZN, +0.50% if they take the training, the company notes.

The training program is billed as Amazon’s look to the future, as automation becomes increasingly common in all sorts of workplaces. But the company could be spending its time and energies on more immediate problems, critics say. The online retail giant could also afford to increase wages, improve working conditions and change its attitude towards unionized labor, they say. Here are some of the company’s other priorities, according to workers’ rights advocates.

When Amazon was planning to make New York City one of its two HQ2 locations last year, the company drew fierce criticism for allegedly being anti-union over the years. The company at one time even had a video instructing workers how to spot impending unionization, according to outlets reporting a leaked video. It backed away from its New York City plans in February, saying it had support from local residents, but not from some state and city politicians. The Seattle, Wash.-based company is going ahead with its plans for its Crystal City, Va. campus.

Lawrence Mishel, a labor-market economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, told MarketWatch that Amazon “should be neutral to collective bargaining.” He added, “I think it’s important to have workers’ voices in what’s going on.”

An Amazon spokeswoman said the company already offers what unions are pressing for. “We provide great employment opportunities with industry-leading pay, and comprehensive benefits.” The spokeswoman said there’s an open-door policy “that encourages associates to bring their comments, questions and concerns directly to their management team. We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce.”

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