On Oct. 2, e-commerce behemoth Amazon sent shockwaves across the business world when it announced plans to raise the minimum wage for all U.S. employees to $15 an hour.
The move, set to take effect Nov. 1, was widely praised by workers and activists, and has now positioned the company as a nationwide leader on the issue of worker pay in America.
Many have credited Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for Amazon’s decision. Along with other progressive organizers, Sanders called out Amazon directly over the summer for its low pay and poor working conditions.
“It’s a huge victory for hundreds of thousands of workers,” Sanders told Mic in an interview. “The issue of non-living wages in this country is an issue we are going to stay fiercely on — that’s why we choose the $15 an hour minimum wage.”
The “Fight for $15” movement, which advocates for a $15 minimum wage nationwide, was launched by fast food workers in New York City in 2012, and picked up steam during the 2016 presidential election when Sanders made it a core campaign issue.
As recently as August, Sanders has been emailing his supporters and sharing videos on his social media channels that single out Bezos directly.
In September, Sanders went further, introducing the “Stop BEZOS Act” in the Senate. The piece of legislation aimed to require large companies like Amazon to pay the cost of public assistance such as food stamps, Medicaid and public housing that their workers receive. Although the bill was criticized — even by liberal economists such as Jared Bernstein, the former chief economist for former Vice President Joe Biden — Sanders said it helped generate attention to the issue of wage disparity nationwide.
“This is what we call a message piece of legislation to gain attention, to focus on the absurdity that the middle class has to subsidize the wealthiest person in this country,” Sanders said. “Ironically enough, their criticism ended up generating some more attention to the issue, which I think worked to our benefit.”
In the coming months, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has pledged to advocate for a higher minimum wage in Congress. According to Jay Carney, Amazon senior vice president of global corporate affairs, the company plans to work with Sanders and others as a part of that effort.
“We don’t want to say it’s $15 or nothing,” Carney told Mic in an interview. “Ultimately, it’s for Congress to decide, but we will work with all stakeholders who believe that we should raise the minimum wage.”
Carney also addressed recent reports that some long-time Amazon employees may face some negative financial consequences despite the minimum wage increase, such as losing their monthly bonuses.
“We’re going to work hard to make it clear to every employee that that is not the case,” Carney said. “Everyone has a net benefit from this.”
Amazon’s decision on minimum wage came just weeks before the 2018 midterm elections, and was introduced against the backdrop of a broader ongoing debate in Democratic circles over the future direction of the party. Sanders, who has been criticized by establishment Democrats for holding extreme policy positions on various issues, said he feels vindicated by Amazon’s decision. He also was certain to credit to the Fight for $15 movement, workers and grassroots activists for laying the groundwork for Amazon’s major move.
“We have groups like Fight for $15 and these guys have been real heroes and heroines,” he said. “I want to give thanks to the many hundreds of Amazon workers with whom we’ve worked. They told us their stories, they’ve appeared on video and they deserve a lot of credit for the success we have.”
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