Nydelis Ortiz, a 25-year-old underwriting analyst at the Seattle-based credit card processing firm Gravity Payments, was struggling to make ends meet just a few weeks ago.
She grew up in a low-income family and lived in affordable housing. She was the first member of her family to attend college, but accumulated thousands of dollars of student loan debt.
Volunteering for the Peace Corps the past couple of years provided little to no income, and her recent move to Seattle in January resulted in an overwhelming amount of credit card debt.
Life got a little bit easier on April 13 when Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, made an unprecedented announcement. He decided to slash his own pay and dip into company profits to establish a new minimum wage at the firm: $US70,000 a year. The pay increases will roll out over a three-year period, so that everyone in the company will earn at least $US70,000
by the end of 2017.
For Ortiz, this meant the biggest raise of her life. Her $US36,000 salary immediately jumped to $US50,000, and will increase a total of 94% over the next two years.
She is one of about 30 Gravity workers whose salary is essentially doubling.
Ortiz tells Business Insider that she and other employees knew something was up when they were told that NBC News and other TV stations would be at the April 13 company-wide meeting. However, nobody could have predicted anything this extreme.
“The way Dan was phrasing things during the meeting made it seem like we were going to get some sort of raise or bonus,” she recalls. “I thought maybe we were getting a $US5,000 bonus, but then he says that we’re all getting raises to $US70,000 a year, and that was beyond what I could have even imagined he was going to announce.
“We were all in shock. It was dead silent for a couple of seconds before anyone reacted. I remember I was just staring, not even blinking. I heard a couple of people behind me crying. It was such a surprise I didn’t know how to process it.”
Having started working for Gravity in January, it was Ortiz’s first quarterly meeting with the company.
She can now start paying off credit card debt and school loans, but is most excited about being able to visit family living in Vermont and Puerto Rico. She also plans to buy her parents a plane ticket to Seattle, who have never been able to afford the flight.
While the press has simmered down since the announcement, Ortiz has noticed a few changes around the office. “The media attention increased applications for merchants to work with us, so our workload has definitely increased,” she explains. “Everyone is really excited about it, though, and willing to put in extra hours. It’s not required of us, but it’s something that people want to do because they care so much about the company.”
She is logging about five extra hours a week to keep up with the new clients and heavier workload. “I never thought I would go to a job where I would want to work extra hours, but this is something that I, and everyone else, want to do,” she says. “It’s really inspirational to see so many people dedicating most of their day to this job.”
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