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Amazon Increases Minimum Wage

On Tuesday, Amazon announced that it would increase its minimum wage for workers to $15 per hour.

Originally launched in 1994 as a bookstore, the company has expanded into an online-retail behemoth, selling items from dishwashing soap to Apple computers. The company is also well known for its Kindle reading tablets and Alexa, the company’s virtual assistant.

Perhaps Amazon’s greatest selling point is their Prime membership, which provides customers unlimited 2-day shipping, access to its Amazon Video subscription, and even discounts at Whole Foods, all for an annual price of $119. According to Jeff Bezos, the company’s CEO, the company now has more than 100 million subscribers globally.

 Amazon Prime. Photo:  Variety.com

Amazon Prime. Photo: Variety.com

Small businesses and retail storefronts have taken a hit from Amazon’s competitive pricing and attractive perks. Sales at department stores have dropped, and many industries are sitting on the edge of their seats, closely monitoring Amazon’s activity. Just this past month, Toys R Us declared bankruptcy, and attributed the rise in online shopping as one of the reasons for its downfall.

Despite its success, many workers within the company have addressed concerns about working conditions and wages. Amazon’s inhumane working conditions gained traction in 2017, describing their experiences working for the company. One worker in Texas, Vickie Shannon Allen, suffered a back injury on the job. She continued to work despite the pain, and Amazon refused to compensate Allen for her work until she took the issue to the management.

 Amazon Fulfillment Center in Dupont, Washington during Cyber Monday. Photo:  GreekWire/ Kevin Lisota

Amazon Fulfillment Center in Dupont, Washington during Cyber Monday. Photo: GreekWire/ Kevin Lisota

Among one of the greatest concerns from pro-union groups is that most of its workers are on food-stamps and other government assistance programs. According to New Food Economy, the news outlet conducted a survey over five states, and found that Amazon ranked among the top 20 companies in four states with SNAP-dependent workers.

Amazon has taken measures to address their workers’ concerns. In response to the growing allegations, Amazon has stated, “we develop new processes and technology to make the roles in our facilities more ergonomic and comfortable for our associates, and we investigate any allegation we are made aware of and fix things that are wrong.”

Amazon has also received backlash and criticisms from politicians on Capitol Hill. Last September, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (BEZOS) Act, a bill intended to help employees from Amazon and other e-commerce giants from relying on social programs.

Sanders has taken an aggressive stance towards big corporations, attributing to their unfair practices as a reason for workers exploitations. In May, Sanders tweeted, “Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' wealth increases by $275 million every single day. Meanwhile, Amazon workers have to rely on food stamps and public assistance just to survive. This is what a rigged economy is all about.”

 Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont at a campaign rally in Phoenix, AZ. Photo:  Gage Skidmore/ Flickr

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont at a campaign rally in Phoenix, AZ. Photo: Gage Skidmore/ Flickr

With growing pressure, Bezos stated on Tuesday of the increase, “We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do and decided we want to lead. We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.” With over 350,000 workers, Amazon’s previous median annual compensation was $28,446, rounding out to roughly $13.68 per hour.

In response to Bezos’s decision, Sanders has praised the CEO for his commitment to improve the working culture within Amazon. In an statement to the Washington Post, the Senator said, “This is a significant step forward for many thousands of Amazon employees.” Sanders also added that this “will have a ripple effect on the economy,” and hopes that Amazon will be lead the way for others in the industry to follow.