Recently, employees of Amazon.com learned that the company would be raising the starting wage to $15 an hour. Joining the ranks of other companies like Walmart (increased their starting pay to $10 an hour) Costco (average pay is $22.50 an hour), Amazon.com was under immense pressure to provide a living wage to their employees. The average annual income for an Amazon employee is $28,000. The CEO and founder of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos is estimated to make $28,000 every 9 seconds. So, with the growing disparity between pay of upper management, company executives and front-line staff ever widening, $15 an hour should be seen as progress, right? Not so fast, is what some Amazon.com Wisconsin employees have said and I think it caught a lot of people off guard.
Current Amazon.com employees raised concerns about losing monthly incentive bonuses, stock options, and were frustrated that it took them years to finally make their current hourly rate of $14.75 an hour only to have a new hire come in at a quarter above their current pay. Other workers talked about being grandfathered in to adjust their hourly wage even higher, to take into consideration that they were already near the $15 an hour. Clearly, increasing wages for every one of their full-time, part-time, and seasonal U.S. employees, was not as simple as they thought. Amazon.com has said that they believe it all balances out in the end and that workers will have the ability to know exactly the amount of their paychecks.
Listening to those workers brought to mind some very consequential questions to include childcare eligibility, housing assistance, and other programs. In some cases, the increase to $15 an hour will be just enough to remove you from using public safety net programs, but not enough to actually make a difference in expendable income in your home. And we know, $15 an hour can go much farther in some states than others. We also know that people cannot adequately get by on the current federal minimum wage.
You can empathize with people who have had to work very hard to earn the pay increases they have received above minimum wage. However, we all know that we have to start somewhere. I think about the fact that as an African-American, I can freely dine in any restaurant, attend any school, or sit anywhere on a bus, that I wish. I know that I didn’t march, get attacked, or placed in jail trying to gain these rights. Someone else did the heavy lifting, to defend my right to these freedoms.
It is no different with the unions and the work early members did to ensure weekends off, paid vacation, sick leave, social security, an eight-hour work day, overtime pay, minimum wage, employer healthcare, and so much more. So in the bumps and bruises that will come with this change at Amazon.com, I hope that workers can remember that there have been many sacrifices made by people to improve working conditions for all of us. Now, it’s our turn.