Amazon will begin paying hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers a minimum wage of $15 per hour, the company said Tuesday, following criticism from lawmakers that some employees at one of the country's wealthiest companies are dependent on public assistance.
"We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do and decided we want to lead," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. "We're excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us."
The minimum wage increase will be effective Nov. 1, just as Amazon enters the lucrative holiday shopping season and hires temporary workers to help manage the increased demand. The hike will apply to roughly 350,000 full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers, the company said.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company's previous minimum wage varied geographically but said full-time workers earned $11 per hour "in some places." The company did not provide the range of minimum wages it pays nationwide.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has emerged as a fierce critic of Amazon's treatment of its workers. Last month, Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act, or Stop BEZOS Act, aimed at curbing the number of corporate employees on welfare. The measure would impose a tax on large companies to compensate the government when their employees rely on federal assistance programs like food stamps.
Sanders said Tuesday he wants to “give credit where credit is due” and congratulated Bezos for “doing the exactly right thing.”
“What Mr. Bezos has done today is not only enormously important for Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of employees, it could well be a shot heard around the world,” Sanders said. He added that profitable corporations in the fast food, airline and retail industries should follow suit.
"This is exactly the response Sen. Sanders and I hoped for when we introduced our bill," Khanna added in a statement. "We called on Jeff Bezos to do this and be the Henry Ford of his generation and raise wages."
Amazon said it would also lobby Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, saying the current rate of $7.25 is nearly a decade old. The company, which spent $12.8 million to influence the federal policy last year, did not elaborate on specific plans.
"Right now, we are encouraging Congress to raise the minimum wage, but will leave it to them to determine what that would look like exactly," the company spokesperson said.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow praised Bezos as a "good businessman" and "smart guy" when asked about the wage hike at the White House this morning.
"Good for them. I'm in favor of higher wages," Kudlow said.
Amazon made the announcement amid its much-publicized search for a home for its second corporate headquarters. Three Washington, D.C.-area locations are on its list of 20 finalists, and Bezos has said the company will announce a decision before the end of the year.
Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, recently defended the newspaper against frequent attacks by President Donald Trump. Trump has also criticized Amazon itself, accusing the company of ripping off the U.S. Postal Service, avoiding taxes and other bad practices.