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Amazon backing push to raise federal minimum wage to $15/hr

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Brian Huseman, Amazon Vice President of Public Policy, joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to break down the company's support of raising the federal minimum wage.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Now in an open letter, Amazon has voiced their support of the Raise the Wage Act and reiterated its call, or perhaps you can even call it a challenge, for other retailers to join it in raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

We're joined now by Brian Huseman, Amazon Vice President of Public Policy. So, Brian, I'm wondering if you can mention or talk about the added importance of raising the minimum wage given the economic impact of 2020 that we see continuing to linger now into 2021.

BRIAN HUSEMAN: Well, Kristin, thank you for having me. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for over the past decade. And Amazon, as you mentioned, raised our minimum wage two years ago, and we've seen positive benefits from our employees and from the economy. We think especially in this time of pandemic that increasing wages of Americans is important to get the economy back up and running.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now as you mentioned, Amazon has been making this call for some time, since 2018 when Amazon raised its minimum wage. But some economists are still saying that, frankly, many businesses, and especially after 2020, really can't afford to make this step, to pay all of their employees $15 an hour. What do you say to that criticism that something like this just isn't economically feasible for everyone?

BRIAN HUSEMAN: Well, the Raise the Wage Act will phase in a $15 per hour over the next five years, giving businesses time to adjust. But in our experience, we've seen the ability of $15 per hour to retain and to recruit the top talent, reduced employee turnover, increased productivity. We think those are the things that are important for businesses, important for the economy, and the federal minimum wage is just too low for workers in this country.

KRISTIN MYERS: So I want to read a quick quote from that letter. It says, "We were thrilled when several other major companies, including Target, Best Buy, and Costco, also increased wages to at least $15 an hour for their employees. We are hopeful that more follow suit." I just want to ask you bluntly, are you guys calling out Amazon-- or excuse me, Walmart specifically here in this call? What are the retailers do you think are some of the most egregious offenders?

BRIAN HUSEMAN: Well, the company you mentioned, of course, is one that does not pay $15 per hour. We think all businesses should, which is why we're supporting the federal legislation that would require it. We think it's the right thing to do for our customers and our employees.

KRISTIN MYERS: Walmart is the new Voldemort. I see you won't even say their name right now. So, Brian, what about what companies might do on the back end in order to afford this pay increase for some of their employees and their salaries? I'm wondering if you think that might be a concern from other retailers, that perhaps employees are going to see things like reduced hours or even reduced benefits in order to fund this?

BRIAN HUSEMAN: Well, we think paying at least $15 an hour is the basic that companies should do. From Amazon's perspective, in addition to that pay, many of our employees earn more than $15 per hour in different parts of the country. But we also provide strong health-care benefits and worker retraining and generous paternity and maternity leave, and those are the types of things that workers and employees are looking for when they choose to work for a company. We're proud to offer all of those benefits, and we think many other companies are offering similar benefits as well.

KRISTIN MYERS: So to that point, because wage is just a small part of an employee's income, right, their salary, or as you were just mentioning, some of those additional benefits. I'm wondering where you think either Amazon or even other retailers could make more progress in terms of, you know, paying their employees what a lot of them say they feel they're worth?

BRIAN HUSEMAN: Well, as I mentioned, many of our employees make more than $15 per hour in many parts of the country. And our jobs at Amazon are good jobs that offer opportunities for career training and advancement and promotion of movement throughout the workplace. They also offer the flexibility for those who want to work part time, seasonally, or, of course, full time.

So in our perspective, we offer good jobs, and we think that other companies, as you mentioned, should pay at least $15 per hour in addition to these other benefits that we offer.

KRISTIN MYERS: Amazon no stranger to criticism, even when you made this move back in 2018. Amazon also announced that it was going to be eliminating monthly bonuses and stock grants. I find it a little bit hard to believe, especially given how well the markets have been doing, that the minimum wage that people are going to be getting in replace of that is actually going to make up for what they are losing in some of those incentives and some of those benefits. What do you say to that criticism that, hey, great, I'm making $15 an hour now, but I'm losing some of those restricted stock units that are worth thousands?

BRIAN HUSEMAN: Every employee received-- in 2018 received a pay raise when we went to $15 per hour. That's been no question. What we heard from our employees was that they would rather have the additional salary in cash as opposed to RSUs. So we listened to our employees about making this change But everyone received a pay increase.

KRISTIN MYERS: And another one for you here, Brian, is some allegations about warehouse conditions, especially throughout this pandemic. I know that Amazon talks pretty openly about testing and vaccinations, especially also among your workers. But what do you make of some of those criticisms that have been levied that despite the fact that the pay has increased and some conditions, some working conditions have not, especially in the midst of a pandemic where we have seen thousands of Amazon workers contracting this virus?

BRIAN HUSEMAN: Well, Amazon's top priority is the safety of our employees, and it's been challenging for us and for everyone else during the pandemic. We've made over 150 process changes to make sure that our workers are safe. So we now have temperature checks and, of course, we have strong PPE. We have sanitizing.

And as you've mentioned, we've created our own COVID-19 testing program, and we offer tens of thousands of tests per week to our employees. We created these labs from scratch to ensure that workers are safe. While the situation is completely challenging, safety is our top priority, and our workplaces are safe.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, Brian Huseman, Amazon vice president of public policy, thank you so much for joining us to talk again about this continued fight for $15.

BRIAN HUSEMAN: Great. Thank you so much for having me, Kristin. We look forward to continuing to advocate for the Raise the Wage Act.