Photo: AP

Last week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (net worth: $150 billion) boasted about his company’s recent decision to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. For some useful perspective on what that means for actual humans, we now bring you the thoughts of a longtime Amazon customer service employee.

This employee wrote to us last week after reading about Bezos’s annual letter to shareholders, in which America’s richest man took a jab at his competitors, challenging them to raise their own wages as well, and wrote, rather beatifically “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.”

Amazon—no doubt reading the political mood of the nation—raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour last October, but saved itself some money at the same time by ending its program of stock grants and incentive pay for its lowest-paid workers. Its move came after more than a decade of concerted action by the Fight For 15 movement to make the $15 wage a national issue. For Bezos, the cost of the wage increase could be written off as a PR expense. But for Amazon employees themselves, the takeaway is decidedly mixed.

The following note is from a current Amazon customer service agent (CSA):

I work in customer service on a specialty team. I’ve been here for several years. When the raise happened, they got rid of bonuses and stock grants. (For the stock grants, you were given more the longer you were with Amazon, but you have to wait for them to vest.) Sometimes you might get a small gift card as a pat on the back.

The bonuses were based on numbers. Specifically, the number of YES-es you got on the email survey after a contact. It’s hard to calculate because it was applied to everyone, but different departments do better than others depending on the complexity of the contacts they take. I know of many who relied on those bonuses to make up for income shortfall.

Our employee discount is 10%, until we’ve spent $1,000. So, it’s really only $100 per year total.

Everyone hired new gets the $15 per hour. Those of us who have been here got either an extra $2.50 per hour, or a raise to $16.50 per hour, whichever was higher.

We have no idea what our new income cap is. There has been no mention of our twice-annual merit increase of .25 per hour.

When the raise kicked in, I was earning more than $2.50 over my starting pay. I feel they should have given me the same amount over the new starting pay. They did not.

The $16.50 I now make means I can’t get food stamps anymore, but the new pay isn’t really enough to make up the difference.

My department takes difficult calls all day. We are often slammed with back-to-back contacts because Amazon is getting crazy about productivity and starting to treat reps like robots. We’re tired. We’re broke, and Amazon is shouting about how amazing they are because of this raise. It’s hard to watch.

So, no bonuses, no stocks, pitiful discount, extra workload with very little or no time between calls, a raise that really wasn’t, and no idea if we will ever be able to make more than what we do now. I don’t want to seem greedy but we get screamed at by people who really DO expect their orders in two days no matter what. We also get perverts who call because they know we have to be polite (Though, we can hang up.) Then there are the freebie abusers who call demanding compensation for their distress.

We are timed on EVERYTHING. We are way more restricted in what we do than people who work in an office.

Yes, I work from home, but I can’t pay my bills with that. It wasn’t always horrible. I really used to like my job, but the last few years things have really changed. The problem is I NEED my job.

We get 6 paid holidays per year, chances are we WILL have to work on all of them. While it means extra money in overtime, I would rather have time off with my family. I haven’t had a full holiday off in years. You haven’t lived until you’ve taken an angry call on Christmas morning.

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If you are an Amazon employee who would like to share your experience working there, email me.