SEATTLE, WA – About 305,000 low-wage Amazon employees will get a pay boost as the company raises its minimum wage to $15 per hour. The pay increase, however, comes after years of scrutiny of low-pay and backbreaking conditions at Amazon fulfillment centers – and as CEO Jeff Bezos became the richest man in history.
The $15 minimum wage kicks in Nov. 1 for all workers, seasonal, part-time, and contractors included. At the same time, the company says it will ask Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour.
“We listened to our critics,” Bezos said in a press release.
Not only is Bezos the richest man in history – worth an estimated $164 billion – but Amazon is the second company in history to reach a $1 trillion value. That happened on Sept. 4 when the stock hit an all-time high of $2,039 per share. The stock was trading at about $1,949 as of 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.
At Amazon’s Seattle campus, corporate workers are well compensated, with software developers paid about $100,000 per year, according to Glassdoor.com. But just 13 miles south at Amazon’s Kent fulfillment center, workers are making far less.
Workers who pick products and pack boxes in the massive Kent fulfillment warehouse earn between $11.50 and $13 per hour, although Amazon has said that they earn over $15 per hour including bonuses and stock options.
Last month, Washington state records showed Amazon had 1,366 employees who also received food stamps, the sixth-highest of all companies in the state. Earlier this year, the company revealed that the median wage at the company was about $28,446.
In addition to low pay, Amazon has been criticized for years for working conditions at fulfillment centers. In 2013, the nonprofit National Council for Occupational Safety and Health found that seven Amazon employees died while working in warehouses. A British journalist working undercover in a fulfillment center recently revealed that workers skip bathroom breaks to avoid being penalized.
Amazon has even patented a way to put warehouse workers in cages – although the company later said it would not use the idea.
“I’m a full time employee and I make $13.25 an hour. It’s not enough to make my rent and eat every day. I’m on Medicaid as a supplement to my expensive health insurance. I also receive food stamps. I took this job because I’m a recent college grad with two Master’s degrees and this is all I could find that pays more than $10 an hour,” a fulfillment center worker from Illinois described in an email to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders that was shared with Patch.
File photo by Neal McNamara/Patch