Recently, Amazon announced it will begin paying its full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary workers a minimum wage of $15 per hour. To be clear, this is great news. The question is: why did we have to wait for Amazon to do it?
There should already be a federally mandated minimum wage of $15 per hour. Since 2009, the federal minimum has been stuck at just $7.25 per hour–less than half a living wage. When accounting for inflation, it’s lower than it was in 1968. Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, did not stumble across this information and decide overnight to raise his workers’ pay. Rather, he was publically browbeaten and threatened with boycotts to make it happen.
For months, Amazon and Bezos’s every success were viewed through a critical lens by reporters and workers alike. Rather than simply applaud the trillion dollar company for reaching that milestone, conversations turned towards the low pay the workers who made the company so profitable were receiving for their role in its achievements. Instead of picking Bezos’ brain to understand what business acumen made him the wealthiest man in the world, social media wondered how anyone could possibly earn as many billions as he has without underpaying others. It was labor movement advocacy, facilitated by Twitter and truth-oriented journalists, that put Bezos on the spot. That a raise resulted from him succumbing to justifiable disapproval says less about his conscience and more about this country’s state of affairs. Public shaming, and not legislation, got more than a quarter million workers a raise. Amazing, but not sustainable.
We cannot rely on the benevolence of bosses to ensure a full week’s work enables workers to provide for themselves and their families. This is where Congress is supposed to step in. Since 1938, it has been the government’s job to ensure all workers, at minimum, earn a livable wage, and right now Washington is failing the American people. It’s unacceptable for the federal minimum wage to not have been increased in almost a decade. That it also is not tied to inflation is equally ridiculous. For Amazon to address this while the majority of representatives sit on their hands is as backwards as it gets.
The closest we got to a legislative response to Amazon and similar companies overreliance on low wages was Sen. Sanders’ Stop BEZOS Act. The legislation would have taxed large companies whose workers rely on government aid dollar-for-dollar. More of a political statement than a seriously passable piece of legislation, it put greater pressure on Amazon, and politicians, to make clear their stance on the minimum wage and the shortcomings of our capitalist system. Even Tucker Carlson chimed in on the side of Sen. Sanders to bring attention to Amazon’s workers’ reliance on food stamps and other benefits. Their criticism, however, was just that. No legislation has passed through either chamber of Congress to bring the federal minimum wage up to date. For the millions of workers who earn the federal minimum or less, they’ll have to continue applying pressure to their bosses and representatives and hope, like with Bezos, they capitulate.
The other option is electing new representatives that don’t need to be badgered into doing their job. This November, voters across the country have the opportunity to elect representatives that know $7.25 per hour is a pittance and plan to do something about it. It’s good that Amazon workers are receiving a raise, and good that Jeff Bezos is still human enough that shame can turn him in the right direction. What would be great, though, is for politicians to see that the praise heaped on Amazon could have been theirs had they been doing their job.