By Elton Gomes
Amazon on Tuesday announced that November onwards, it will be raising the minimum wage for all U.S. employees to $15. The new minimum wage is set to benefit more than 250,000 Amazon employees in addition to another 100,000 seasonal employees, the company said. Some employees already making $15 per hour are likely to get a raise. The change also applies to Whole Foods and other subsidiary employees.
“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, said, CNN reported. “We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”
The move comes at a time when Bezos and his company have been facing considerable flak for its pay disparity. The move could be said to be the after-effect of intense campaigning by Senator Bernie Sanders. In September, Senator Sanders introduced a legislation called the Bezos Act to tax corporations for every dollar that their low-wage workers receive in government health-care benefits or food stamps.
Senator Sanders has explicitly said that Amazon does not pay their workers sufficiently.
How has Sanders responded
Lauding Amazon’s decision, Sanders said, “I want to give credit where credit is due,” adding “I want to congratulate Mr. Bezos for doing exactly the right thing,” CNN reported. In his statement, Sanders also thanked Amazon employees who reached out to his office and asked him for support in the fight for a minimum wage hike.
Hailing Bezos’ decision, Sanders urged other companies to follow his example. “You cannot continue to pay your workers starvation wages,” Sanders said. “Learn from what Bezos has done. He has done the right thing. You have got to do it as well,” as per the CNN report.
Poor working conditions at Amazon’s warehouses
Over the last year, several reports detailing worker’s struggles at Amazon have emerged. Amazon warehouse workers were forced to urinate in bottles or forego their bathroom breaks entirely due to high fulfilment demands, journalist James Bloodworth, who went undercover as an Amazon worker to research for his book, told the Verge.
Bloodworth reported that workers who picked up products for delivery at a warehouse in Staffordshire, UK, used bottles instead of the actual toilet. Since the toilet is located far away, visiting it eats into workers’ rest periods, thus forcing them to use bottles.
Additionally, Amazon paid little attention to workers’ physical health. A worker from another warehouse from the UK said, “I had a fit at work and was taken to the hospital. The next day, someone rung me and asked why I was not in work. I explained to them, but it was still marked, ‘no call, no show,’” according to the Verge.
Amazon, however, denied such statements and said that it provides “a safe and positive workplace.”
The company told Verge, “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We have not been provided with confirmation that the people who completed the survey worked at Amazon and we don’t recognize these allegations as an accurate portrayal of activities in our buildings.”
Bezos said that he is proud of the company’s working conditions. Bezos visit to Germany in April 2018 was marred with protesting Amazon employees from Germany, Italy, and Poland. Taking note of the protests, Bezos said: “I am very proud of our working conditions and I am very proud of the wages that we pay. In Germany, we employ 16,000 people, we pay at the high range of any comparable work. We have workers councils, of course, and we have very good communications with our employees — so we don’t believe we need a union to be an intermediary between our employees,” Business Insider reported.
Why did Amazon raise the minimum wage? What does it mean for its employees?
Amazon’s decision to raise wages seems to be a good thing when taken at face value. The decision has the ability to positively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers who were paid low wages, and it could turn out in Amazon’s favour as well.
Increasing wages means that more people are likely to have extra funds to spend on goods – which they could end up purchasing from Amazon itself. Amazon’s pay hike could make up for the loss through increased sales. Most importantly, it is possible that Amazon has already begun the automation process in order to reduce labour costs.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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