- Jeff Bezos defended Amazon employees’ working conditions in his 2020 letter to shareholders.
- Bezos said workers are inaccurately portrayed as “desperate souls” and “robots” in news reports.
- But after the failed Alabama union vote, Amazon needs to “do a better job” for workers, Bezos said.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Jeff Bezos is on the defensive about how Amazon treats its employees following the failed union vote at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse.
In Bezos’ 2020 letter to shareholders, his final letter as CEO of Amazon, he discussed Amazon’s relationship with its employees after workers voted against forming a union last week, a vote that Bezos called “lopsided.”
The vote count, which finished last Friday afternoon, showed that 1,798 employees had voted against unionizing and 738 had voted for the union. While over 500 votes were challenged and 76 votes were voided, 70.9% of the valid votes were against the union.
In his letter, Bezos said he feels Amazon’s direct relationship with employees is strong, but that the company needs “a better vision for how we create value for employees – a vision for their success.”
“Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t,” Bezos wrote. “I think we need to do a better job for our employees.”
Bezos also indirectly discussed the controversy surrounding Amazon’s Twitter spat last month. In response to a tweet from Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan about working conditions at Amazon, Amazon’s Twitter account wrote: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”
The tweet sparked an uproar among employees, mostly Amazon delivery drivers, who said that peeing in bottles is an “inhumane” yet common part of the job. Insider also spoke with several drivers who said that they’ve had to poop in bags and struggled to change menstrual pads during their shift, in addition to peeing in bottles.
According to James Bloodworth, a British author who went undercover at an Amazon fulfillment center in 2018, warehouse employees were scolded for taking bathroom breaks. He told Insider at the time that he found bottles of pee while on the job.
In his letter, Bezos called news reports about how Amazon employees are treated inaccurate, claiming that workers are portrayed as “desperate souls” and “robots.” He highlighted the informal break time that employees are able to take during their shifts to “stretch, get water, use the rest room, or talk to a manager,” which he said don’t impact performance. These breaks are in addition to a lunch break and other break workers get during their shifts, Bezos said.
Bezos also pushed back against the notion that employees are held to unachievable performance goals, which was a main theme in the union push: Workers told Insider they were unfairly punished for taking “time off task,” or time away from their workstations.
But Bezos said that performance is evaluated over a long period of time and employees are provided with coaching if they’re not meeting their goals.
“We don’t set unreasonable performance goals,” he said. “We set achievable performance goals that take into account tenure and actual employee performance data. Performance is evaluated over a long period of time as we know that a variety of things can impact performance in any given week, day, or hour.”
Bezos’ comments come amid increasing pressure on Amazon from all sides, particularly from lawmakers. Amazon’s Alabama union vote drew the attention of Sen. Bernie Sanders and President Joe Biden, who publicly supported the workers attempting to unionize and criticized Amazon’s aggressive campaign against the union. The company has also been the subject of antitrust scrutiny over the last year, with government leaders questioning Amazon’s power and influence.
As the pressure mounts, Bezos, who testified before Congress for the first time last year, will step aside as CEO in the third quarter of 2021 and will be replaced by AWS CEO Andy Jassy.