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Economy & Business

Amazon Employees Consider Consequences Of Company's MInimum Wage Hike


This week, Amazon announced a minimum wage increase for upwards of 350,000 workers. Starting on November 1, the pay will start at $15 an hour. It's a bold move for the nation's second-largest private employer. But, as the news settles in, some Amazon employees have started to consider the other side of the equation - the loss of monthly bonuses and some stock benefits. We decided to check in with some Amazon workers from across the country to find out their thoughts.

EMILY BYERS: My name is Emily Byers (ph). I'm 43 years old. I work at Jeffersonville, Ind., at Amazon. So on a day-to-day basis, I will work on a computer and just to make sure that our bins match up physically and virtually. So I have been at this fulfillment center since it opened about six years ago, and I am making 14.40. But after the pay raise goes into effect, I'll be making about - roughly 16. And I have a son who does travel ball, and, for me, this means more sports equipment, more opportunities to go to tournaments - that kind of thing. So for myself and my family, I would rather have the money on my paycheck now than to wait the two years for my stocks to vest.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I don't want to give my name, but I'm a packer at a fulfillment center on the West Coast, and I've been doing it for about a year. I earn 13.75 an hour, and I will be earning 15.05 an hour. What's concerning us mainly is we're given a monthly bonus, and when our holiday season comes around, that bonus essentially doubles, and we're worried about not getting our payout and making less.

FAUSTO MARTINEZ: My name is Fausto Martinez (ph). I've been working for Amazon for the last three weeks. I work in the fulfillment center in Miami. I start working as a (unintelligible). It's a process in the company that you receive the merchandise and made to put it in the inventory. I start making $11 per hour, and now, with the increase, we're going to be making $15 an hour after November 1. I feel very excited about it, very happy because, as a provider, I now - I can give to my family a better life quality. And, also, I can spend more time with my family because I don't have to be looking for a second full-time job. It's going to change my life.

MARTIN: So we wanted to hear more about this, so we've called NPR's Alina Selyukh for more information about it. Alina, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.


MARTIN: So tell us a little bit more about how this $15-an-hour wage will actually work. And which Amazon employees are affected?

SELYUKH: Amazon says that about 250,000 of their existing full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers who are hourly will get this raise to $15 an hour. In addition, they are expecting to hire another 100,000 employees for the holiday season, and those folks will also start at $15 an hour. Most of the employees that we're talking about are warehouse workers.

MARTIN: So I do want to raise some of the points that were raised by the workers that we spoke with. You could hear that some were very excited about it, but others were concerned about their bonuses, particularly during the holiday season. Now, you've been speaking with Amazon executives. What does the company say about how the wage increase is a better deal?

SELYUKH: Right. So there have been a few reports and a number of anonymous employees who have stepped up and said, we're really upset about the loss, specifically about the monthly bonuses. And the stock options are a little bit more complicated. Essentially, it used to be that some employees would get vested into the company, and they would get this big, massive bump from stocks two years later. Two years is a long time for somebody who works in a warehouse. So the company - on that front, the company says pretty much a majority of our workers told us they would rather get the money now than wait for two years for these stock options.

On the monthly bonuses, it's a little bit more complicated. The company's response was pretty adamant. They're saying it should not be the case that you are making less money with this $15 minimum wage than you were before.

MARTIN: So I think part of the confusion might arise from the fact that this wage increase and the other changes to compensation were announced very suddenly. A lot of the employees didn't know that it was coming. Any idea why? Why did they announce it so suddenly, and why now?

SELYUKH: Amazon is kind of known for making really big announcements kind of out of the blue. They keep a lot of really big things close to the vest up at the top of the company. Amazon executives that I've spoken with did tell me that this conversation at the top level was happening for quite some time, and they just decided it wasn't worth waiting for anything. They might as well just roll with it.

But one really big thing to keep in mind is that Amazon has been under pressure for quite some time to show that they do treat their workers well. There have been a spate of stories highlighting some of the more questionable activities at some specific warehouses around the country and overseas. There was that big criticism that Amazon got when the company released their median income number. The median income was released as $28,446. This is just above poverty level for a family of four.

Now, that is a world-wide number is what the company will point out. That said, this is the second-most valuable company. It is run by the world's wealthiest man. So the contrast has been putting quite a bit of pressure for Amazon to do something.

MARTIN: OK. Before we wrap up here, part of the Amazon announcement also mentioned that the company plans to lobby for a higher federal minimum wage. And I'm asking you to speculate, but do you think this is going to have an impact beyond Amazon itself?

SELYUKH: I think that was one of the most important parts of their announcement. It is very rare for a corporation - especially for Amazon - to take kind of a very political stance. And, in this particular case, I mean, we're talking about - federal minimum wage right now is $7.25. It is an extremely low amount. So it's kind of an interesting thing for Amazon to take a political stance.

Now, you could view it sort of skeptically, critically. Some people are saying, you know, Amazon would have done this $15 minimum wage anyway. We are in an extremely tight labor market. So you could see a scenario in which other retailers look around and realize that they do also need to compete with Amazon on that wage.

MARTIN: That's NPR business correspondent Alina Selyukh. And let me point out again that Amazon is a sponsor of NPR.

Alina, thank you so much for talking with us.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.