Amazon has launched a payday advance program, called Anytime Pay, for its most precariously employed warehouse workers to "access up to 50% percent of the money [they've] earned instantly."
While it's no secret that many Amazon warehouse workers live paycheck to paycheck, most Americans do, the implication of this new offering, which has been framed as a perk, is grim. The program codifies what many Amazon workers have been saying about their dangerous, low-paying jobs: warehouse workers need an option like this because they're not earning enough to make it to payday.
"Anytime Pay is an exciting new program that gives you fast access to the money you've earned, instead of waiting until the next paycheck," reads the flyer recently distributed to warehouse workers.
The payday advance program is specifically available to Amazon warehouse workers who work what is known as "pick-your-own-shift" jobs. Amazon has touted these positions for their flexible hours and opportunities for career growth. But in Glassdoor reviews online, workers in these positions complain about having to fight to get on the schedule. In other words, workers who can't get enough hours, or are underemployed, are likely scrambling to make ends meet.
In 2017, Walmart introduced a similar payday advance program for its employees after coming under scrutiny for decades for underpaying its retail workers and creating unpredictable schedules. At the time, Walmart said the new initiative would help its workers to avoid payday loans and other debt schemes.
Amazon's new payday advance program also doesn't appear to be as predatory as some payday loan companies, which make their revenue by charging high interest rates to people who need access to cash quickly.
But they are some caveats to Amazon's new payday advance option. Warehouse workers who opt into this program, by signing up for a pay card with the software company Wisely, will have to pay fees at out-of-network ATMs to take out cash, and may be subject to other fines. In other words, workers will likely get a little less of their paycheck by using this card.
In 2018, following harsh rebukes from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders that Amazon was paying poverty wages, the company agreed to raise its minimum wages to $15 an hour for all its U.S. employees. At the time, reports had surfaced that one in three Amazon warehouse workers in Arizona depended on food stamps and the company's median salary was $28,000 a year.
Amazon's concession to pay workers more was a victory for labor, as the company sets the standard for working conditions in the e-commerce industry. But many warehouse workers, particularly those working in cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed—are still barely scraping by.
In March, Amazon raised its minimum wage from $15 an hour to $17 an hour to compensate workers for the health and safety risks of working during the pandemic. But the company ended that benefit in May, and warehouse workers expressed frustration that the company was cutting them off as major COVID-19 outbreaks continued to surface in Amazon warehouses.
A spokesperson for Wisely would not provide details about its contract with Amazon or a full list of fees associated with the card, but said workers could access their full pay.
"As is generally required by law applicable to pay cards, the Wisely pay card provides cardholders with the ability to access the full amount of pay without incurring any fees," the Wisely spokesperson said. "As is customary with pay card solutions, the Wisely card generates revenue from transaction fees, for example, merchant interchange fees and certain ATM fees. It is important to note that pay card fee disclosure is required by law and all Wisely card fees charged by ADP are disclosed to our cardholders when they sign up for the card."
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A spokesperson for Amazon told Motherboard that Amazon is not paying Wisely to use its services, and would not charge employees for using the Anytime Pay Program, inactivity, or transferring Anytime Pay to their Wisely card.