Costco is raising its starting hourly wage to $16, CEO Craig Jelinek said Thursday.
"Since Costco's inception, the company has been committed to paying employees very competitive retail wages and providing them broad and affordable health care benefits," Jelinek said during a Senate Budget Committee hearing. "Two years ago we moved our starting hourly wage to $15 everywhere in the U.S. Effective next week, the starting wage will go to $16."
Jelinek said more than half of Costco's U.S.-based employees earn hourly wages of more than $25.
Costco is the latest in a slew of major retailers that have announced wage hikes in recent years because of state regulation and political pressure, but they have also done so to gain an edge over competitors. Before the coronavirus pandemic throttled the economy, unemployment rates were low — leading retailers to compete for scarce talent in a tight labor market. Over the last few years, Amazon, Walmart and Target have gradually raised their starting wages to $15 an hour while offering workers perks like tuition reimbursement programs.
Support is growing in Congress for a federal minimum wage hike. A $15 wage is included in the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill now on the table, which calls for a multiyear phase-in of the increase by 2025. President Joe Biden backs doubling the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
The issue has gained popularity in recent months as grocery store workers, restaurant staffers and other front-line employees continue to bear an outsize share of the pandemic's hardships. Democrats have used the dynamic as leverage to increase hourly compensation, but bipartisan support for the measure has proven to be elusive. Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., announced a proposal Tuesday that would raise hourly wages to just $10 by 2025.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a major advocate for the wage hike, denounced the Republican proposal in a tweet.
Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has championed increasing the minimum wage for years.
"Why should working people be subsidizing some of the wealthiest families and largest corporations in America because of the starvation wages they pay their workers?" he said Thursday.