$15 an hour adds up
The starting wage at the closest Amazon fulfillment center was $11.25 when Eric Hill did the math and realized working there would free him from the treadmill he'd been on for his entire adult life—waiting tables, tired out, dependent on tips, never able to predict how much he'd earn from one month to the next. He applied at Amazon, got hired, and commuted 10 minutes from his home to report for his first day of work at a facility that packs and ships customer orders.
That was September 2018. One month later, Hill and his teammates found out Amazon was raising its minimum wage. Nobody would make less than $15 an hour. "The whole place went nuts," Hill said, remembering the excitement the moment he found out he'd be making 33 percent more each hour than he expected when he took the job.
Over the last year, Hill's greater earning power has given him the flexibility to spend more time with his 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. He can afford to volunteer to leave work early on days when there are more than enough associates to keep up with the volume of customer orders. "When I come home early, the first thing I hear when I walk through the door is 'Daddy, Daddy!'" he said. "And that's the absolute best thing in the world. I've been able to spend so much time with my kids this past year just because I'm making more."
Leaders at fulfillment centers across the country hear firsthand from many of the hundreds of thousands of Amazonians affected by the pay increase. Kirc Savage, a director of operations, remembers an associate telling him "This literally changed my life. I don't have to work two jobs anymore."
Addys Zaldivar never made $15 an hour prior to joining Amazon this July, even though she worked her way up to manager roles at various food-service chains in Florida. Those jobs held her responsible for everything from customer complaints to inventory glitches. She carried the stress home. Now that she's an Amazon fulfillment center associate, "I just come, clock in, and do my job the best I can. And that's it. It's a huge, tremendous difference."
Photo courtesy of Addys Zaldivar
Photo courtesy of Addys Zaldivar
But it's her bigger paycheck that came at a crucial time for her family, just as her oldest was about to leave Miami to start college at the other end of the state in Tallahassee. She's the first in Zaldivar's entire family to be able to continue her education beyond high school. "So it was great, great news for my family to see that she did it," she said. But it also meant financial uncertainty. Before Amazon, Zaldivar wondered if she'd be living too paycheck-to-paycheck to help with school expenses or even take time off work to make the long drive to visit her daughter on campus.
"I'm happy that we can help her because of the money that I'm making now," she said. "I'm not really afraid to tell her 'We are going to support you. We're going to be there for you.' It's because I'm working over here, and I'm making the money that I'm making. And I went already three times to Tallahassee."
Zaldivar and Hill are among the many employees who are vocal about Amazon with friends, family, and even strangers. They talk about the $15 wage. They talk about benefits like paid parental leave, the Career Choice program, and comprehensive medical, dental, and vision coverage. "People are in shock," Zaldivar said. "They don't believe it. But then they quit the job that they have. They transfer over right away."
Benefits—particularly dental benefits—have been life-changing for Hill. For years, he needed his wisdom teeth pulled, and his wife needed a root canal. Despite his steady restaurant jobs, his family simply couldn't afford the procedures. The crowding in Hill's mouth got so bad that he stopped biting into apples, fearful that his front teeth might come loose. Today, both Hill and his wife have been able to get the dental care they needed. "That stress is gone," he said. "It's been just incredible. Absolutely incredible."
When first announcing the $15 wage, Amazon also pledged to press for an increase to the federal minimum wage, which stands at $7.25. “Every time a member of our Public Policy team meets with a member of Congress, we take the opportunity to advocate for raising the minimum wage,” said Jay Carney, senior vice president of Amazon Global Corporate Affairs. “Giving a raise to tens of millions of Americans would improve the lives of families across the country.”