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Bernie Sanders on Amazon: 'I want to give credit where credit is due'

Amazon is back in Senator Bernie Sanders’s good graces.

The lawmaker from Vermont, who had previously been one of the most outspoken critics of the company over its treatment of workers, lauded Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos on Monday for deciding to raise minimum wages to $15.

Today I want to give credit where credit is due,” Sanders said in a written statement. “And I want to congratulate Mr. Bezos for doing exactly the right thing.” 

Amazon’s wage increase, effective Nov. 1, applies to all full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees across the U.S., impacting 250,000 Amazon employees and more than 100,000 seasonal workers hired during the holiday season. The e-commerce giant also bumped up its hourly minimum wage in the London area to 10.50 pounds ($13.63) and 9.50 pounds ($12.33) for the rest of the United Kingdom, the company said in another statement. Amazon is the second largest private employer in the U.S. behind Walmart.

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” Bezos said in a statement. “We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”

Bezos coupled the wage increase announcement with a pledge to have Amazon’s public policy team advocate for an increase to the federal minimum wage, which has stood at $7.25 per hour for about a decade.

“I look forward to working with him in this area,” Sanders said of Bezos.

An Amazon spokesperson said in an email to Yahoo Finance that the company “listened to a lot of people, including Sen. Sanders, and we appreciate his support for what we’re doing.”

“A harsh critic”

Sanders and Amazon have clashed over reports of the company’s treatment of workers for the past several months.

The senator claimed in a post from Aug. 29 that Amazon’s median employee pay was only $28,446, or “9 percent less than the industry average and well below what constitutes a living wage in the United States.” He added that thousands of Amazon employees were forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing because their wages were too low. 

Amazon refuted the claim in a response the same day, writing that “Senator Sanders continues to make inaccurate and misleading accusations against Amazon,” and adding that the median U.S. salary for full-time Amazon employees was $34,123. Amazon had noted in a filing from April that its 2017 annual total compensation for the median compensated employee other than Bezos was $28,446.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has previously criticized Amazon over its reported treatment of workers. (Jacob Hamilton/Ann Arbor News via AP)

Last month, Sanders introduced a bill called the “Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act,’’ or the “Stop BEZOS Act,” which would impose taxes on large corporations equivalent to the federal benefits their lower-wage employees received. Namely, companies with more than 500 full-time, part-time, franchise workers and independent contractors would need to pay the costs of federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, the school lunch program, and Section 8 housing that their employees used. The Senate bill has not yet received any co-sponsors.

It is no secret that I have been a harsh critic of the wage and employment practices of Amazon and its owner Jeff Bezos,” Sanders said in his most recent statement Tuesday.

“It has been my view that the middle class and working families of this country should not have to subsidize Mr. Bezos, the wealthiest person on Earth, because many of his Amazon employees earned wages that were so low that they were forced to go on government programs like food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing,” he added. Bezos is currently the richest man in the world with a net worth of $164.9 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Amazon has come under scrutiny for its treatment of workers from more individuals than just Sanders. Many consumers boycotted the company ahead of its annual Prime Day in July. In 2015, The New York Times published an exposé asserting that its white-collar workers had to endure debilitating working conditions and high pressures to meet performance standards. Amazon was reported in August to have paid employees to post positive comments about working for the company on social media. 

But the e-commerce giant’s latest move to boost wages is a step in the right direction for the corporation, according to Sanders.

“What Mr. Bezos has done today is not only enormously important for Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of employees,” Sanders said. “It could well be a shot heard around the world.”

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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