April 11 (UPI) -- Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos challenged retail competitors Thursday to match his company's decision to hike employees' hourly minimum wage to $15 -- a move that drew a response from a leader at competitor Walmart.
Amazon raised its minimum wage last year for all U.S. full-time, temporary and seasonal employees. It covered 250,000 Amazon employees and 100,000 seasonal workers. But the retailer also was criticized for simultaneously cutting benefits and stock grants, which lowered overall compensation for some.
"I challenge our top retail competitors (you know who you are!) to match our employee benefits and our $15 minimum wage," Bezos wrote in his annual letter to shareholders. "Do it! Better yet, go to $16 and throw the gauntlet back at us. It's a kind of competition that will benefit everyone."
Target has already announced plans to raise its wage from $12 to $13. By the end of 2020, that wage will rise to $15. Costco raised its wage to $15 in March.
More employers are raising wages as a result of a competitive job market and low unemployment.
Amazon also offers the Career Choice program that pays up to 95 percent of education tuition and fees for workers. More than 16,000 Amazon employees have used the program. Amazon also upskilled 50,000 U.S. employees to help employees move up in the company.
In his letter, Bezos talked about the growth of third-party sellers on Amazon, as independent sellers have grown from 3 percent to 58 percent of physical growth merchandise sales.
"Third-party sellers are kicking our first-party butt. Badly," Bezos said.
Walmart, which has not yet raised its wage to $15, hit back against Bezos on Thursday.
"Hey retail competitors out there (you know who you are) how about paying your taxes?" Walmart executive vice president Dan Bartlett responded in a tweet, which was linked to a report that said Amazon made $11 billion in profits last year but paid no federal taxes, a result of the Republican tax code overhaul. Amazon also received a $129 million tax rebate from the federal government in 2018.