Ce­cil of­fi­cials ap­plaud Ama­zon’s hike to $15 wage

Co. cuts other ben­e­fits, lead­ing to crit­i­cism

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By KATIE TABELING kta­bel­ing@ce­cil­whig.com

NORTH EAST — Ama­zon’s bold an­nounce­ment that it would raise its min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour for its U.S. em­ploy­ees next month has sent shock­waves through Ce­cil County, home to one of the e-com­merce gi­ant’s dis­tri­bu­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

“It’s great for the em­ploy­ees, and it’ll def­i­nitely keep things com­pet­i­tive among other busi­nesses,” Ce­cil County Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Di­rec­tor Chris Moyer said. “It also might show the value of re­tain­ing work­ers through in­creased wages.”

Ama­zon an­nounced Tues­day that it planned to pay its em­ploy­ees more after fac­ing tremen­dous po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic pres­sure. Its ri­vals Wal­mart and Tar­get had slowly started to raise wages in the face of protests that the fed­eral min­i­mum wage of $7.25 was not enough for a liv­ing. Em­ploy­ees that were al­ready paid $15 an hour would see a $1 per hour raise, as re­ported by Bloomberg this week.

How­ever, Ama­zon will also phase out monthly bonuses that could top hun­dreds of dol­lars as well as its pro­gram for 2020 and 2021 stock op­tions for em­ploy­ees who could buy shares of the stock cur­rently worth more than $2,000, re­plac­ing it with a di­rect stock pur­chase plan be­fore the end of 2019. The hourly wage hike more than com­pen­sates for the

phase-out of both in­cen­tives, ac­cord­ing to Rachael Lighty, re­gional man­ager of ex­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Ama­zon.

“We’ve heard from our hourly ful­fill­ment and cus­tomer ser­vice em­ploy­ees that they pre­fer the pre­dictabil­ity and im­me­di­acy of cash to [stock op­tions],” she wrote. “The net ef­fect of this change and the new higher cash com­pen­sa­tion is sig­nif­i­cantly more to­tal com­pen­sa­tion for em­ploy­ees, with­out any vest­ing re­quire­ments, and with more pre­dictabil­ity.”

Lighty added that there are no changes to the com­pany’s per­sonal, va­ca­tion or un­paid time off, but stressed the new min­i­mum wage was in ad­di­tion to other perks.

“The Ama­zon $15 min­i­mum wage is on top of our in­dus­try-lead­ing ben­e­fits — in­clud­ing com­pre­hen­sive health care on day one, 20-week paid parental leave, and Ama­zon’s in­no­va­tive ca­reer choice pro­gram, which pre-pays 95 per­cent of tu­ition for cour­ses in high-de­mand fields,” she wrote in a email.

The on­line re­tailer, which started two decades ago as a book­seller, has about 100 ware­houses in the coun­try. More than 5,000 em­ploy­ees work at three sites in Mary­land, in­clud­ing the 1,100 em­ploy­ees who work in the North East ful­fill­ment cen­ter in Prin­ci­pio Busi­ness Park.

Not all Ama­zon em­ploy­ees are thrilled with the changes to com­pen­sa­tion though.

At least four long­time work­ers, who spoke to The As­so­ci­ated Press on con­di­tion of anonymity for fear they would be fired, said the $1 an hour raise would not make up for the lost ben­e­fits. The em­ploy­ees, all of whom work in dif­fer­ent ware­houses around the coun­try, said the $15 min­i­mum wage was great for new work­ers, but the math didn’t work out for those who have worked at Ama­zon’s ware­houses for a few years.

“I feel hugely dis­re­spected,” a worker at the North East ful­fill­ment cen­ter told AP. “The ones who are loyal should be re­warded for loy­alty, not smacked in the face.”

Ama­zon also an­nounced it would be a lead­ing voice in push­ing Congress to raise min­i­mum wage. Mary­land raised its min­i­mum wage to $10.10 this July after sev­eral small in­creases over the past few years.

Ce­cil County has be­come a hub of sev­eral man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion em­ploy­ers in the Mid-At­lantic re­gion in the last two years, with com­pa­nies like Lidl, Fortress Steel, TRUaire set­ting roots here along with the im­pend­ing ar­rival of Med­line. But Moyer said he was un­sure how other re­tail­ers and busi­nesses would take Ama­zon’s grand an­nounce­ment, re­gard­ing match­ing that wage or the un­der­stand­ing that some work­ers would have more money to spend.

“It’s still too early to tell how this will af­fect other busi­nesses. We’re putting our feel­ers out to see the ex­act im­pact on the econ­omy,” he said. “But it’ll be great for the work­ers, prob­a­bly tough on the em­ploy­ers.”

To the Susque­hanna Work­force Net­work, a non­profit fo­cus­ing on work­force de­vel­op­ment in Ce­cil and Har­ford coun­ties, Ama­zon’s an­nounce­ment sent a dif­fer­ent mes­sage: the la­bor force is tight­en­ing. Unem­ploy­ment in Amer­ica hit a no­table low of 3.9 per­cent in April. Ce­cil County’s unem­ploy­ment rate has been slowly drop­ping and was re­ported at 4.9 per­cent in Au­gust, ac­cord­ing to the state’s lo­cal area unem­ploy­ment sta­tis­tics.

“With a tight la­bor mar­ket, com­pa­nies do what­ever they need to do to get staff,” said Bruce Eng­land, SWN ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “We have many po­ten­tial work­ers on the side­lines, so when wages go up, it looks like the op­por­tu­nity is ripe for them to jump right into the work­force.”

Eng­land also pointed out that Ama­zon’s tim­ing also would help drawn in thou­sands of work­ers to help pack and ship boxes dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. He no­ticed that Ama­zon or third-party re­cruiters have ag­gres­sive re­cruit­ment events at the SWN of­fices ev­ery day.

“Com­pa­nies try dif­fer­ent things to get work­ers, whether it’s a sign-on bonus, al­ter­na­tive work sched­ules or in­cen­tives. Ware­houses are a dif­fer­ent kind of work. It’s phys­i­cal,” Eng­land said. “Not just with Ama­zon, but with com­pa­nies in gen­eral, when they try dif­fer­ent things, it’s to make them more at­trac­tive than oth­ers.”

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JA­COB OWENS

An as­so­ciate works to ship a pack­age in­side the Ama­zon ful­fill­ment cen­ter near North East.

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