Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has vowed to focus more on this workforce, to do a “better job for employees” and become “earth’s best employer.”
In his final letter to shareholders, Bezos used Amazon’s recent highly publicized union battle at an Alabama warehouse as a clear example of why the company should and would improve.
And where the tech giants go, others usually follow. The question now is, what would the best employer on the planet actually look like?
Bezos hinted that he was developing a scheme that will develop new staffing schedules using an algorithm. This comes after his claim that the business do not to treat staff like robots.
Last week, Amazon secured enough votes to defeat a unionization drive at its Bessemer, Alabama, site. He addressed this high-profile case in his annual email.
“I think we need to do a better job for our employees,” wrote Bezos, who will be stepping down as CEO later this year and will be executive chair of the tech shopping giant.
“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,” he added.
Bezo’s comments follow a year of blistering global criticism of Amazon’s work practices during the global pandemic. Amazon was forced to apologize for falsely claiming that its drivers are never forced to urinate in bottles, following years of reports alleging onerous and dehumanizing conditions in its warehouses.
Yet Bezos disputed all media coverage of working conditions at Amazon, including the criticism that the pace of work inside its warehouses is too stressful. Bezos said there’s a stereotype of Amazon workers “being desperate souls and treated as robots,” and that that’s inaccurate.
In his new role as executive chair he revealed part of his focus will be to make warehouse jobs safer.
He said: “We don’t set unreasonable performance goals. We set achievable performance goals that take into account tenure and actual performance data.
“If you read some of the news reports, you might think we have no care for employees. 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.”
Not everyone is convinced by the sentiment from Bezos. Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said: “His admission won’t change anything.
“Workers need a union — not just another Amazon public relations effort in damage control.”
Amazon reportedly spent millions to monitor and tackle union activities among its workforce, including hiring intelligence analysts to track staff it suspected of organizing efforts.
Last week, workers in the US state of Alabama handed the online retail giant a decisive victory when they voted against forming a union and cut off a path that labor activists had hoped would lead to similar efforts throughout the company.
The union push was the biggest in Amazon’s 26-year history and only the second time that an organizing effort from within the company had come to a vote. But the Bessemer site was always viewed as a long shot since it pitted the country’s second-largest employer against warehouse workers in a state with laws that don’t favor unions. Alabama is one of 27 “right-to-work” states where workers don’t have to pay dues to unions that represent them.
However, some of the work practices claimed by those seeking a union were unseemly and Bezos defended the company against the worst of those allegations.
The American workforce
Amazon is not the only American company under pressure to improve conditions for employees.
Walmart, the United State’s largest employer, said this week it would shift more of its employees from temporary positions to full-time roles by 2022.
“We are prioritizing consistent schedules, skills training, and new pathways for growth, so all jobs at Walmart lead to careers,” Drew Holler, Walmart’s SVP of US people operations said. The company hopes that, by creating more full-time positions, it will help Walmart “continue to attract and retain top talent,” he added.
With more hope on the horizon, thanks to the rapid vaccine rollout in the US Thursday’s weekly job numbers revealed that the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits tumbled last week to 576,000, the lowest since the pandemic began.
Many are seeing this post-COVID low as a hopeful sign that layoffs are easing as the economy recovers from the pandemic recession.