SEATTLE (NBC) — Amazon announced Tuesday it will pay all its U.S. workers at least $15 an hour from next month, amid criticism of conditions for employees.
“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, in a press release. “We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”
The company said it was raising its minimum wage, including for part-time, temporary and seasonal employees, beginning next month — and lobbying for a national hike 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.
Amazon’s announcement comes as the U.S. labor market has continued to improve, with hourly wages growing and more Americans voluntarily leaving jobs.
The Seattle-based ecommerce giant employs 250,000 full-time workers in the U.S. out of a worldwide total workforce of 575,000. Amazon also said it will offer the minimum wage to “over 100,000 seasonal employees who will be hired at Amazon sites across the country this holiday season.”
The $15 minimum will also cover Whole Foods employees and workers at other Amazon subsidiaries.
Labor activists have pushed for a national $15 minimum wage, known as “Fight for $15,” winning some support from states including California and New York, which have instituted the higher wages. Many states, however, retain the $7.25 minimum hourly wage.
Amazon has a reputation among customers for speed and efficiency, but some employees at its fulfillment centers told NBC News the company prioritizes speed over worker safety.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., recently introduced the BEZOS Act, which is meant to force large companies including Amazon to pay a tax if their workers use social services such as Medicare, food stamps and housing aid.
Bezos, believed to be the world’s richest man with a net worth of more than $160 billion, last month announced a $2 billion philanthropic effort aimed at helping homeless families and starting preschools in low-income communities.
The wage news comes as Amazon is set to announce the location of its second headquarters, HQ2, by the end of the year.
Amazon’s expansion into a variety of businesses in recent years has made it one of the world’s most successful companies. In September, Amazon became only the second public U.S. company to hit $1 billion in market value.
News of Amazon’s change in its minimum wage did not do much to change investor optimism about the company. Amazon shares were down 0.5 percent in pre-market trading. Amazon noted that the added expense of higher wages would show up in the company’s next earnings report.