A worker applies tape to a package before shipment at an Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore, Aug. 3, 2017. Amazon is boosting its minimum wage for all U.S. workers to $15 per hour starting next month. Photo: Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
Jeff Bezos didn’t become one of the world’s richest men by missing a business opportunity, and on Tuesday the Amazon CEO showed he also has impeccable political timing. His decision to raise Amazon’s minimum wage to $15 an hour will buy the tech company some political insurance while also helping it steal workers from smaller competitors.
The decision is great news for Amazon workers and is probably overdue given the company’s success. Starting Nov. 1, the company will raise the pay of some 250,000 workers, including part-time, seasonal and temp workers hired by other agencies. Amazon will stop giving stock options to some warehouse workers, but the company says its hourly operations and customer-service employees who already earn $15 will also get wage bumps.
Amazon’s timing is shrewd given the tight national labor market that has companies competing for the best employees. Amazon expects to hire 100,000 temporary workers for this holiday season alone, and the $15 wage will make it harder for competitors to retain workers who make less.
That may explain why Mr. Bezos also announced that Amazon will now lobby Congress to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour. If Amazon is already paying $15, it’s no competitive sweat for Mr. Bezos to look virtuous for the media and politicians. Amazon is rapidly automating—an e-commerce warehouse in China has only four human employees—and its competitors lack Amazon’s scale and far lower cost of capital.
Mr. Bezos’s $15 wage would be a lot more praiseworthy if he hadn’t combined it with a plea for government to raise the labor costs of his competitors. Beware when big business conspires with big government.
Speaking of government, Amazon’s wage increase may also buy some insurance against a looming assault from Congress. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist and likely presidential candidate in 2020, has introduced the Stop Bezos Act that would tax Amazon to finance government transfer payments like food stamps. Bernie tweeted Tuesday that Amazon’s $15 minimum wage is “a big step forward for workers across the nation.” Mr. Bezos also wants to hold off the federal antitrust cops, but that may cost more than $15 an hour.
Politics aside, Amazon’s wage increase wouldn’t be possible if the U.S. economy hadn’t risen out of its eight-year Obama doldrums. As always, the best way to raise living standards is faster growth, not political coercion.