$15 Isn’t Enough to Empower Amazon’s Workers
On Tuesday, Amazon announced it was raising its minimum wage to $15. People were ecstatic and with good reason. In the United States, Amazon directly employs 250,000 people with another 100,000 brought on as “seasonals,” the company’s term for the workers who flood its fulfillment centers during the holiday season. Some of them presently make as little as $10 per hour for grueling — sometimes fatal — work.
While $15 an hour is hardly enough to live a decent and dignified life in this country, it is going to make a world of difference for those who were making even less. As the second-largest private employer in the United States, Amazon’s raise may also benefit workers at other companies as it increases pressure on competing employers to raise wages in order to attract and retain workers in a tight labor market.
But even if a celebration is in order, there are details that should give pause to anyone concerned about worker power.
First, the announcement was quickly followed by reports that the company is scrapping stock awards and monthly bonuses for warehouse workers. According to Bloomberg, Amazon “informed those employees Wednesday that it’s eliminating both of those compensation categories to help pay for the raises.” While Amazon insists “the net effect” of the cuts in benefits alongside the raise will still be “significantly more total compensation for employees,” some calculate that the slashed benefits would cancel out “at least half” of the pay increase. Some workers assert they won’t come out ahead at all.
Then there’s the reality that Amazon, like many companies, classifies some of its workers as independent contractors. It’s increasingly reliant on its “Amazon Flex” program, which allows people to sign up and earn money for delivering packages to customers. While Amazon employs Flex drivers in all practical matters, technically they aren’t employees.
Amazon outsources liability for this program, making use of a legal loophole that allows it to evade the traditional responsibilities that would come with the employee/employer relationship — paying for vehicle expenses, such as maintenance and gas, or taking…