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Bezos defends Amazon worker treatment but acknowledges ‘need to do better’

April 15, 2021, 4:23 PM UTC

Less than a week after Amazon beat back the biggest drive ever to unionize some of its U.S. workers, the e-commerce giant’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, recognized the company could do more for its employees.

In his annual shareholder letter released on Thursday, Bezos said he took no comfort in the results of last week’s union vote at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse, in which workers voted against unionization, with 1,798 votes against the measure, 738 in favor, and another 500 disputed.

The vote came against a backdrop of stories depicting Amazon workers as mistreated and having to resort to steps such as urinating into bottles because they were on such tight schedules.

“Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t. I think we need to do a better job for our employees,” Bezos said in his letter. Despite the victory for Amazon, he added, “It’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees—a vision for their success.”

At the same time, Bezos took umbrage at the depiction in some news articles of how Amazon workers are treated, saying many stories showed them as “desperate souls and treated as robots.” On the contrary, Bezos said, “they’re sophisticated and thoughtful.”

And in his most direct defense yet of their treatment, Bezos touted Amazon workers’ ability to take breaks, their performance objectives, and that only 2.6% of workers are terminated because of an inability to do their jobs. Bezos, who is stepping down as CEO this summer but will remain as executive chairman, said that 94% of fulfillment center employees Amazon surveyed would recommend the company as a place to work.

Some of what Amazon can do to improve working conditions will be part of what Bezos focuses on once he leaves the CEO job. That will include looking into ways to reduce musculoskeletal injuries like sprains and strains that come from repetitive movements and represent a big percentage of employee injuries.

In 2020, Amazon’s net sales rose 37.6% to $386 billion and its stock rose about 60%, as homebound shoppers flocked to the site to do their shopping during the pandemic.

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