Workplace

Amazon’s $4,000 abortion benefit is more important than you think

The country’s second-largest private employer plans to give hundreds of thousands of people access to a travel stipend to receive out-of-state abortions, which would help them avoid abortion bans if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

The Day 1 building is seen at the Amazon.com Inc. headquarters on May 20, 2021 in Seattle, Washington

More than 1 million people work for Amazon in the U.S., and the majority of those employees work in blue-collar, lower-wage positions inside the company’s massive fulfillment and logistics network.

Photo: David Ryder via Getty Images

As the Supreme Court prepares to overturn Roe v. Wade in the coming months, most likely allowing sweeping bans on abortion in most Republican-led states, Amazon has granted a new and unusual benefit to the million-plus Americans who work for the company: $4,000 to travel for out-of-state health care, including abortions.

The country’s second-largest private-sector employer — surpassed only by Walmart — announced the benefit on May 2 before a draft Supreme Court opinion leaked the same day that shows that the court plans to overturn constitutional abortion protections in a ruling expected to be made final in June or July. At least 13 states have provisions known as “trigger laws” in place that will immediately ban abortion access if the ruling becomes official, and about a dozen more are expected to pass similar bans in the coming months.

The $4,000 benefit could potentially allow Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of workers to circumvent those bans by covering the cost of travel to states that protect and allow abortions. The precise details of how that benefit will work, how workers can access it and how the company will go about protecting the privacy of the workers who use it remain unknown because Amazon did not respond to requests for comment and additional information about the plan. But because of Amazon’s sheer size and scale as both an employer and political powerhouse, the benefit could have a greater impact on individual lives than any other abortion benefit provided by a private company.

Abortion bans primarily affect health care for lower-wage, blue-collar workers because those workers are less likely to be able to access the funds to travel to places where abortion remains legal.

While tech companies like Yelp and Bumble will also provide similar travel benefits for abortion access, they employ far fewer workers. More than 1 million people work for Amazon in the U.S., and the majority of those employees work in blue-collar, lower-wage positions inside the company’s massive fulfillment and logistics network. Amazon employs more than 150,000 people just in the states with trigger laws, including around 90,000 in Texas alone, according to employment and job details outlined in the company’s 2021 economic impact report.

The new offering could additionally set the stage for fights with specific state policymakers who oppose abortion, especially in states with robust trigger laws. Amazon isn't threatening to leave those states over their policies, but the company is creating a scenario wherein its workers use an Amazon benefit to circumnavigate their respective state bans.

The only company that employs more people in the United States is Walmart, which competes to hire the same lower-wage workers but has not announced a similar travel benefit for abortion access. Amazon and Walmart have added parallel incentives, benefits and salary increases over the last two years as the two companies have competed for a shrinking pool of available workers. The intense fight for available labor is likely to continue in the coming months — March job openings in the U.S. hit an all-time record high of 11.5 million — meaning that unique benefit offerings like the abortion travel ban could play a key role in determining where people choose to work. Walmart did not respond to request for comment.

“I don’t think it’s at all that far-fetched to assert that it’s way more disproportionate. Workers who are in low-wage jobs are highly impacted by this,” Asees Bhasin, a senior research fellow at Yale Law School, told Protocol. Bhasin co-authored a report that showed how minimum-wage workers are disproportionately impacted by the high costs of abortion, which averaged about $551 for a first-trimester abortion in 2017.

The benefit does have significant limits. The hundreds of thousands of contracted and part-time workers within the company’s logistics system are excluded from access to the $4,000. That group includes the more than 100,000 people who drive for small delivery companies that contract with Amazon, as well as the part-time workers who drive for the Amazon Flex app or those who work less than 20 hours per week. Many of those part-time workers are on Medicaid instead of employer-provided health plans and are thus excluded from the travel stipend. Medicaid does cover the cost of some abortions, but it depends on where you live. And many of the states where Medicaid doesn’t cover abortions are the same states where abortion is or soon will be illegal.

Bhasin also expressed skepticism about the long-term value of the $4,000 stipend. “It definitely feels like virtue signaling. It’s much cheaper than giving all of your employees proper health care benefits that they actually earned and need because of the labor they work,” she said. “And there’s a larger point to be made about how it should be unnecessary to have to share something as personal as an abortion with your employer to get this money.”

But Amazon workers interviewed by Protocol mostly expressed enthusiasm about the news. While many criticized the company’s health and safety records, benefits and salaries broadly, they told Protocol that they feel better about working for the company and their own lives knowing they have access to the money if they ever need it.

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