Jeff Bezos appears to be reckoning together with his legacy within the wake of the Amazon union drive


A protester holds up a large cutout of Jeff Bezos’s face while standing in front of a sign that reads “stop Amazon.”
A girl protests plans to construct an Amazon warehouse in France in January 2021. | Chesnot/Getty Photographs

The outgoing CEO is vowing to make Amazon “Earth’s Greatest Employer.”

In his remaining letter to Amazon shareholders earlier than stepping apart as CEO, Jeff Bezos supplied a vigorous protection of the corporate’s therapy of its warehouse workers. However the billionaire additionally admitted that the retail large must get its act collectively within the wake of a historic union drive at an organization warehouse in Alabama.

“I feel we have to do a greater job for our workers,” Bezos wrote within the letter. “Whereas the voting outcomes had been lopsided and our direct relationship with workers is powerful, it’s clear to me that we’d like a greater imaginative and prescient for the way we create worth for workers — a imaginative and prescient for his or her success.”

Whereas a lot of Bezos’s remaining shareholder letter targeted on all the great and worth Bezos believes his firm has achieved for purchasers, shareholders, and Amazon retailers, the worker dialogue hints at a CEO maybe lastly conscious — even when simply barely — of his difficult legacy. Reasonably than simply obscure speaking factors, Bezos supplied examples of how Amazon would possibly search to enhance in terms of worker therapy.

For instance, Bezos mentioned he needs Amazon to proceed to invent methods to cut back the commonest sort of accidents that Amazon warehouse workers endure: strains and sprains from repetitive work.

“We’ve got at all times wished to be Earth’s Most Buyer-Centric Firm,” Bezos mentioned. “We gained’t change that. It’s what bought us right here. However I’m committing us to an addition. We’re going to be Earth’s Greatest Employer and Earth’s Most secure Place to Work.”

Amazon aiming to be the world’s greatest employer is certainly a departure for the corporate; Amazon workers have advised Recode over time that even HR executives on the firm have said internally some model of the truth that Amazon is “customer-obsessed” and never “employee-obsessed.”

However, as Amazon execs usually do when the corporate faces crucial scrutiny, Bezos supplied a vigorous protection of the corporate that was dismissive of some worker complaints and the journalists who report on them.

“In case you learn a few of the information experiences, you would possibly assume we’ve no care for workers,” Bezos wrote. “In these experiences, our workers are typically accused of being determined souls and handled as robots. That’s not correct. They’re subtle and considerate individuals who have choices for the place to work. Once we survey achievement middle workers, 94% say they might advocate Amazon to a good friend as a spot to work.”

An Amazon spokesperson didn’t instantly supply a proof on how Amazon calculated the 94 p.c determine.

Bezos’s letter comes per week after a majority of staff at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, voted in opposition to unionizing with the Retail, Wholesale and Division Retailer Union. The election was solely the second union vote at a US Amazon warehouse within the firm’s 25-year historical past, and the most important by far. Whereas 738 staff voted in favor of unionizing, 1,798 voted in opposition to it. One other 505 ballots had been challenged — most of them by Amazon, the union mentioned — and weren’t counted within the outcomes. Even when lots of these went within the union’s favor, the loss would have nonetheless been a powerful one.

The union has mentioned it plans to file unfair labor apply costs in opposition to Amazon referring to its conduct throughout, and within the months main as much as, the election. And regardless of the result of the problem, Amazon will face different labor battles within the months forward. Whereas Amazon usually touts its beginning hourly pay of $15 for warehouse staff and medical and retirement advantages from day one in all employment, pro-union staff say they’ve points with aspects of the work, akin to Amazon’s strict surveillance of their each transfer, the quantity and length of break occasions, and manufacturing quotas.

Bezos argued that the efficiency targets are cheap.

“We set achievable efficiency targets that take into consideration tenure and precise worker efficiency knowledge,” he wrote. “Efficiency is evaluated over a protracted time period as we all know that quite a lot of issues can affect efficiency in any given week, day, or hour. If workers are on monitor to overlook a efficiency goal over a time period, their supervisor talks with them and offers teaching.”

On the subject of office accidents, Bezos mentioned the corporate has already launched one program to “coach small teams of workers on physique mechanics, proactive wellness, and security” and is creating a staffing system that can routinely rotate staff into completely different roles to assist forestall accidents. Amazon warehouse workers and managers have advised Recode over the previous 12 months that it’s not unusual for efficiency targets to take priority over the handbook rotation of employee roles meant to stop accidents.

The truth that warehouse working circumstances made up a good portion of the shareholder letter — and that Bezos mentioned he’ll deal with worker enhancements in his new function as govt chair of the Amazon board of administrators — looks as if a transparent signal that the world’s richest man sees the menace to his firm’s way forward for specializing in buyer satisfaction on the expense of workers.

However Bezos’s outright dismissal that some Amazon warehouse staff really feel like they’re handled like robots factors to a CEO disconnected, or shielded, from the on a regular basis lifetime of his large front-line workforce.

Sure, it’s completely true that there are Amazon warehouse staff who respect the pay and advantages that the corporate presents, particularly in gentle of different employment choices within the areas during which they dwell. However Bezos, in his remaining days as CEO, would additionally do nicely to not less than hear from the numerous pickers, packers, stowers — and low-level managers who oversee them — who describe demoralizing work overseen by robots, pc algorithms, and metric-obsessed managers who’ve little regard for his or her human well-being.

Like its founder’s legacy, the dialogue of whether or not Amazon is an effective employer is difficult.

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