What Jeff Bezos’ Minimum Wage Challenge Means for Amazon’s Retail Rivals

The minimum wage battle is about to get a lot more heated.

In his annual letter to shareholders, released today, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos issued a challenge to his retail rivals: “Match our employee benefits and our $15 minimum wage.” The billionaire executive told his unnamed competitors, “You know who you are!”

“Do it,” he wrote. “Better yet, go to $16 and throw the gauntlet back at us. It’s a kind of competition that will benefit everyone.”

Bezos’ statement comes six months after the e-commerce giant announced that it was raising its minimum wage to $15 for all employees across the United States. The hike, which went into effect last November, impacted more than 250,000 full-time, part-time and temporary workers, including those hired by agencies as well as more than 100,000 seasonal employees.

His latest remark puts more pressure on Amazon’s big-box adversaries — and all of them have been grappling with the issue.

Last January, Walmart said it was raising its starting wage from $9 to $11, reaping the benefits of the tax reform law that cut down corporate rates. Target also recently stepped up its minimum hourly pay to $13, with plans to raise that number to $15 by 2020. (The federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 and hasn’t been increased since 2009.)

But Amazon isn’t without its controversies. Prior to the minimum wage hike, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna introduced the “Bezos Act” after finding that the median annual salary for the Seattle-based company’s workers was $28,000, with about half falling under that amount. The legislation proposed taxing corporations for every dollar their low-wage workers received in government assistance. (Sanders has since commended Amazon for raising wages.)

“We strongly believe that this will benefit our business as we invest in our employees. But that is not what drove the decision,” Bezos added. “We had always offered competitive wages. But we decided it was time to lead — to offer wages that went beyond competitive. We did it because it seemed like the right thing to do.”

Watch FN’s interview with a number of the shoe industry’s top players.

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