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Amazon hopes new wage increases will quash “sweatshop” reputational slams

by | Oct 3, 2018 | Public Relations

Kudos to Amazon for making its minimum wage workers’ dream a reality—the retail giant’s newly announced $15-per-hour minimum wage for all employees nationwide accomplishes a goal towards which other retail leaders have only taken small strides. Amazon’s 600,000 employees, which includes those at Amazon-owned Whole Foods Markets, are surely reveling in the news of the new wage increase, which will go into effect on Nov. 1, and founder/CEO Jeff Bezos is clearly proud of his company’s amazing accomplishment.

But don’t think Amazon itself doesn’t have anything to gain in this move (besides a better class of more qualified and motivated workers)—the company has been battling reputational threats for some time now regarding its handling of employees, and these issues were amplified over the summer thanks to a campaign by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who has been regularly using Amazon as an example of substandard wages and poor working conditions in America, referring to Amazon as the “biggest villain of capitalism.” The company disclosed recently that the median annual pay for Amazon workers is less than $29,000 a year, which fueled longstanding critiques of Amazon as a “Dickensian sweatshop for warehouse workers.”

In a rare display of counterattack, Amazon lashed out at Sanders’ statements in a blog post, which claimed Sanders’ comments were “inaccurate and misleading accusations,” and asserting that Sanders “plays politics” and “continues to spread misleading statements about pay and benefits.”

The wage increase—which applies to all full-time, part-time, temporary (including those hired by agencies), and seasonal employees across the U.S.—goes a long way towards quashing Sanders’ allegations, and may answer the “why now” question that Amazon didn’t address. “We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” said Bezos in his statement. “We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”

In addition to its own wage news, Amazon announced its public policy team will begin advocating for an across-the-board increase in the federal minimum wage. “We will be working to gain Congressional support for an increase in the federal minimum wage. The current rate of $7.25 was set nearly a decade ago,” said Jay Carney, senior vice president of Amazon Global Corporate Affairs, in a news release. “We intend to advocate for a minimum wage increase that will have a profound impact on the lives of tens of millions of people and families across this country.”

In addition to the wage increase, Amazon said its employees will continue to receive the company’s full benefits package, which includes:

  • Comprehensive healthcare, including medical, dental, and vision coverage
  • Company-paid life and disability insurance
  • Up to 20 weeks of paid parental leave
  • 401k matching
  • Career Choice, which pre-pays 95 percent of associates’ tuition for courses in high-demand fields, whether those jobs are at Amazon or another company
  • Career Skills, which trains hourly associates in critical job skills like resume writing, how to communicate effectively, and computer basics

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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