Jeff Bezos: “We need to do a better job for our employees”

Power Retail By Power Retail | 16 Apr 2021

Jeff Bezos has penned a final letter to Shareholders as he plans to exit his role as Chief Executive of Amazon, which he founded in 1996. In this letter, he finally addressed the recent result of the union election for Bessemer, Alabama. 

The lengthy letter was shared on the company’s website, where he outlined the start of his career with Amazon, and where it has reached by the time of writing.

“In Amazon’s 1997 letter to shareholders, our first, I talked about our hope to create an “enduring franchise,” one that would reinvent what it means to serve customers by unlocking the internet’s power,” he began.

Bezos noted that Amazon has “come a long way since then”, now employing 1.3 million people worldwide and boasting more than 200 million Amazon Prime members globally.

In Response to Union Vote in Bessemer, Alabama

Throughout the letter, which covered the Climate Pledge that he and the company launched in 2019, Bezos shared his views on the recent news surrounding the Union push for Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama.

As a summary of events, Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama have pushed to unionise one of the major warehouses in the state. This came after some employees reported harsh working conditions in the heat with two breaks (but according to the employees, the time it takes to get to the bathroom based on the size of the warehouse takes up half of the designated break time) after being on their feet all day.

According to Amazon, employees are paid more than double the minimum wage, and while it’s illegal to forbid workers from forming a union, the company shared a campaign, including disparaging posters in bathrooms to showcase the strengths of working for the company. However, Amazon disputes this and said that workers in fact heard ‘far more’ anti-Amazon messages.

“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us,” the statement from Amazon read.

On April 9th, the outcome of the election for a possible union was confirmed – ending in favour of Amazon. The process, which took two months to complete due to the pandemic, resulted in 1,798 workers voting against the union and 738 in favour.

Jeff Bezos also made a statement in regards to the recent decision, where he agreed that Amazon needs to “do a better job” for its employees.

“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. 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 explained.

From there, he explained that the reports of a lack of care for employees were inaccurate. “If you read some of the news reports, you might think we have no care for employees,” Bezos shared.

“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. When we survey fulfilment centre employees, 94 percent say they would recommend Amazon to a friend as a place to work.

“Employees are able to take informal breaks throughout their shifts to stretch, get water, use the restroom, 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 explained.

Amazon-Driven Consumer Changes

Aside from the comments regarding the recent votes, Bezos also touched on the development in consumer behaviour and how Amazon has fuelled said changes.

According to Bezos, customers complete 28 percent of purchases on the platform in under three minutes. Furthermore, half of all purchases are finished in less than 15 minutes.

“Compare that to the typical shopping trip to a physical store – driving, parking, searching store aisles, waiting in the checkout line, finding your car, and driving home,” he explained.

“Research suggests the typical physical store trip takes about an hour. If you assume that a typical Amazon purchase takes 15 minutes and that it saves you a couple of trips to a physical store a week, that’s more than 75 hours a year saved. That’s important. We’re all busy in the early 21st century.”

Bezos finished the letter by noting Amazon remains at “Day 1”, and to continue practising kindness and originality.

“To all of you: be kind, be original, create more than you consume, and never, never, never let the universe smooth you into your surroundings. It remains Day 1.” You can read his full letter here.

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