Q&A: The case for the $15 an hour minimum wage


 Brian Fontenot is  Amazon’s Regional Director in Delaware 

Q: What would you say to small businesses (100 or fewer) that say this would hinder their recovery from the pandemic by increasing costs?

I would say that increasing wages helps small businesses recruit and retain talented employees, reduces the business costs associated with employee turnover, and boosts overall productivity. When workers are able to focus on doing their jobs and serving customers – instead of worrying about how they’re going to pay their bills – businesses of all sizes see the long-term benefits.

Additionally, small businesses would have time to adjust to wage increases. The legislative proposal that was passed by Delaware’s State Senate in March and is now being considered by House leaders would gradually increase the federal minimum wage. It would be implemented over several years and not reach $15 an hour until 2025. So, it won’t be switched on overnight.

Q: Did a higher minimum wage lead to greater productivity, minus other steps?

In 2018, when Amazon raised its starting wage to $15 an hour, I saw the immediate positive impact on recruiting, retention, and morale. Perhaps most notably, the majority of employees who were working second jobs no longer had to take on additional positions—something that created safer workplaces and happier, healthier employees.

I also saw that when employees aren’t worrying about how to pay their bills and can focus on their work, it’s good for business. I’ve been pleased to see other major companies increase their starting wage to $15 an hour and encourage every business to take this step.

Q: Would the minimum wage lead to use of more automation that will leave some people behind, especially those who cannot meet the physical demands of jobs at Amazon and other fast-paced employers?

At Amazon, we already pay a starting wage of $15 an hour. This has not lead to automation that leaves our employees behind. In fact, at our fulfillment centers we’re seeing new jobs – like maintenance technicians and flow control specialists – created because of automation. When you invest in technologies that support employees, it can make their jobs better, safer, and easier.

Q: Does the higher minimum wage lead to wage inflation, with those making above the minimum wage demanding higher pay?

I am not an economist, but after working for Amazon for nearly a decade, I know that raising wages has a significant positive impact on our employees and their families, on the communities where we operate, and on our business and others. If minimum wage legislation is passed in Delaware, it will boost incomes for approximately 100,000 hard-working Delawareans and help to revitalize our state economy.

Q: Could you outline the social benefits of a $15 wage in terms of buying a car, housing etc.?

 Once we increased our starting wage to $15 an hour, the positive impact on employee morale and the surge in job applicants was immediate. In fact, the month after we raised our starting wage, applications for hourly positions more than doubled.

Employees who saw their paychecks increase told us that they had an easier time providing for their families and were able to spend on things like car repairs, home improvement projects, and tuition. Some were able to move into larger apartments or purchase cars. I’ll never forget the pride I saw in one of my team members—a young mother who excitedly shared that, for the first time, she was able to afford gymnastic classes for her daughter.

I want to emphasize that many hard working people across our state don’t just deserve a raise. They need one. It’s really tough, if not impossible, for a full-time worker earning $9.25 an hour to feed and house a family. This is about doing the right thing for our neighbors and communities.

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