// Jeff Bezos vows to do better for Amazon staff in his last letter as CEO to shareholders
// He said it was time to focus more on the welfare of Amazon’s workers
// However, he still insisted in his letter that their conditions were really not that bad
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has vowed to do better by his employees in his last letter as chief executive to shareholders.
With a contentious union vote in Alabama behind him – which included allegations of gruelling working conditions – and the end of his reign as chief executive officer nearing, Bezos it was time to focus more on the welfare of the online retail giant’s workers.
However, he still insisted in his letter that their conditions were really not that bad and that Amazon was the “earth’s best employer” and “safest place to work”.
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“I think we need to do a better job for employees,” he said.
“While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees – a vision for their success.”
Bezos is stepping down from the chief executive position later this year to become executive chairman of the online retail giant that he founded.
“In my upcoming role as executive chair, I’m going to focus on new initiative,” he said in his letter.
“I’m an inventor. It’s what I enjoy the most and what I do best. It’s where I create the most value.
“I’m excited to work alongside the large team of passionate people we have in ops and help invent in this arena of earth’s best employer and earth’s safest place to work.”
The news comes after workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
Of the 3000-plus ballots cast, 1798 voted against and 738 voted for unionising.
The RWDSU has vowed to contest the results, which were announced last week.
The warehouse employs around 6000 staff in total and the election process, which lasted seven weeks, attracted national headlines in the US as well as globally and saw the likes of Senator Bernie Sanders and President Joe Biden weigh in.
The controversy also spotlighted Amazon employees’ complaints about working conditions that included not having enough time to go to the bathroom or take meal breaks, as well as concerns about unsafe pandemic work conditions amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If you read some of the news reports, you might think we have no care for employees,” Bezos said in his letter.
“In those reports, our employees are sometimes accused of being desperate souls and treated as robots.
“That’s not accurate. They’re sophisticated and thoughtful people who have options for where to work.”
He added: “Employees are able to take informal breaks throughout their shifts to stretch, get water, use the rest room, or talk to a manager, all without impacting their performance.
“These informal work breaks are in addition to the 30-minute lunch and 30-minute break built into their normal schedule.”
Bezos also said Amazon didn’t set unreasonable performance goals and that 94 per cent of staff already say they would recommend working there to a friend.
However, he acknowledged there were problems, including repetitive work that results in injuries.
In response, Amazon last year launched the “WorkingWell” program at 350 facilities where 859,000 people work, coaching people on “body mechanics”.
The company is also developing “algorithms to rotate employees among jobs that use different muscle-tendon groups to decrease repetitive motion,” according to the letter.
Amazon is also set to invest millions into other safety projects and new technology to help prevent collisions of forklifts and other types of industrial vehicles.
RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said Bezos’ letter validates what the union has been saying about the online retail giant.
“We have initiated a global debate about the way Amazon treats its employees,” he said.
“Bezos’s admission today demonstrates that what we have been saying about workplace conditions is correct.
“But his admission won’t change anything, workers need a union — not just another Amazon public-relations effort in damage control.”