Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has previously criticized Amazon’s treatment of its workers, praised CEO Jeff Bezos Tuesday for his company’s new $15 an hour minimum wage for US employees.
“It is absurd that the taxpayers of this country have to subsidize the wealthiest person on Earth, who happens to be Mr. Bezos, because so many of his workers made wages that were so low that they were forced to go on food stamps and Medicaid – it doesn’t make sense,” Sanders told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “So I applaud Jeff Bezos today for raising the minimum wage at Amazon.”
Sanders urged other companies to follow Bezos’ lead.
“You cannot continue to pay your workers starvation wages,” Sanders said. “Learn from what Bezos has done. He has done the right thing. You have got to do it as well.”
Sanders confirmed that he had reached out to Amazon to thank the company and added that he expected to speak to Bezos or Amazon Senior Vice President Jay Carney, a former White House press secretary, later Tuesday.
Sanders has previously slammed Bezos and Amazon for engaging in what the Vermont independent says are exploitative employment practices. Last month, Sanders introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act, or Stop BEZOS, which would levy a tax on large companies equal to the value of the public benefits that their workers receive.
In July, just before Amazon’s Prime Day, Sanders tweeted, “Jeff Bezo’s newly renovated home in Washington DC will have 25 bathrooms. Meanwhile, Amazon workers skip bathroom breaks in order to meet their grueling work targets. #CEOsvsWorkers.”
On Tuesday, however, Sanders struck a different tone. “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 at a news conference on Capitol Hill. “Today, I want to give credit where credit is due. And I want to congratulate Mr. Bezos for doing exactly the right thing.”
Later on CNN, Sanders urged President Donald Trump to sponsor his legislation.
“Mr. President, you ran for office talking about your concern for working people,” he told Blitzer. “I’ve got a $15 an hour minimum wage introduced. We’ve got 30 cosponsors. Why don’t you speak out on that? Why don’t you get your Republican friends to say that we should pass a $15 an hour minimum wage so that anybody in this country that works 40 hours a week is not living in poverty?”
Sanders introduced the bill in May 2017 with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Washington Democrat Sen. Patty Murray to raise the minimum wage up from the current $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2024. The bill remains in committee.
Bezos responded to Sanders on Twitter, thanking the senator and expressing hope that other companies will make similar policy changes.
“Thank you @SenSanders. We’re excited about this, and also hope others will join in,” Bezos tweeted.
On Tuesday, Amazon announced the new minimum wage, which takes effect November 1 and applies to full-time, part-time and temporary workers. Amazon says its $15 minimum wage will benefit more than 250,000 employees, plus 100,000 seasonal workers.
Amazon also said its public policy team will begin lobbying for an increase in the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 an hour since 2009.