Last October, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour in hopes of serving as a role model for other industries. Walmart will increase its minimum wage to $11 an hour, and Target is working toward $15 an hour by 2020, according to its corporate website.
Amazon hopes that the federal minimum wage will follow suit and implement similar changes.
Gregg Potter, Lehigh Valley’s Labor Council AFL-CIO, said he believes Amazon could be doing a lot better.
“Fifteen dollars an hour wage — that’s a drop in the bucket,” Potter said. “In the True Value Distribution Center, they start their folks with over $20 an hour with real benefits. In a manufacturing distribution situation like Ocean Spray, they also start at higher wages and better benefits, and Sam Adams is the same thing.”
However, employees that have been working for longer periods of time aren’t going to see a drastic increase in pay. Amazon also aims to phase out of its variable compensation pay and restricted stock units program to help pay for the increase. Employees are worried that the loss of stock rewards and monthly bonuses are not worth the wage raise.
Alan Jennings, head of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, said there shouldn’t be a need to cut bonuses.
“Jeff Bezos is the wealthiest man in the world,” he said. “He can afford this.”
Jennings said he thinks that Amazon is creating a beneficial shift in the industry, however. He said workers in warehouses all over Lehigh Valley aren’t making $15 an hour, so the pressure Amazon is putting on wages is positive.
“Complaining about a $15 an hour minimum wage is a mistake,” Jennings said.
Jennings’ organization runs the Second Harvest Food Bank, which distributes 9 million pounds of food annually. The food bank has already had to increase wages as a result of the pressure from Amazon’s increase.
Tony Iannelli, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, agrees that the increase is positive for workers.
Moreover, Amazon’s wage increase doesn’t eliminate the working conditions that employees have to deal with. Jennings said he has heard the working conditions are not comfortable and dangerous.
“There were some issues relative to working conditions in the past, we’ve heard less concerns most recently,” Iannelli said. “We’re hoping the general sense is that it has improved just on the fact that we haven’t heard as much.”
Potter said that the only way to improve Amazon’s conditions is by implementing stricter workplace regulations.
“Until someone is forced to do something, until you’re forced to maintain clean waters around your facility, until you’re forced to contain the harmful emissions that go into the air that we breathe, people don’t do what you expect,” Potter said. “They do what you inspect.”
He also mentioned his concern with Amazon’s future goals. Potter said he feared the company’s partnership with U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx because Amazon will be able to get their delivery practices without having to pay extra for others to do the work.
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