As Jeff Bezos prepares to step down from his role as CEO of Amazon.com Inc, the founder of the online retail and cloud computing giant – and frequent target of workers’ rights activists – is crafting a more employee-friendly persona.
In his annual letter to shareholders published on Thursday, Bezos said he takes no comfort from the outcome of a recent collective bargaining push that saw Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama overwhelmingly vote against unionising.
“I think we need to do a better job for our employees,” wrote Bezos. “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.”
With more people shopping online and more working remotely from home, Amazon and its shareholders have reaped the financial rewards. Amazon’s net income last year was $21.3bn, Bezos noted in the letter.
But Amazon’s success has come at a price to workers, say many labour activists, who have heavily criticised Amazon in recent years for its treatment of warehouse employees both in the United States and abroad.
Amazon is the US’s second-largest private employer. Last week, workers at its fulfillment centre in Bessemer, Alabama voted overwhelmingly against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) – an outcome some labour scholars saw as potentially detrimental to efforts to unionise warehouse workers elsewhere in the US.
Of the roughly 3,200 ballots cast, 1,798 voted against unionising, while only 738 voted in favour of it.
The RWDSU has vowed to challenge the outcome, claiming Amazon unlawfully interfered with the rights of employees to engage in union activity – a charge Amazon refutes.
In his letter to shareholders, Bezos also pushed back against reports that Amazon treats warehouse workers poorly.
“When we survey fulfillment center employees, 94% say they would recommend Amazon to a friend as a place to work,” he wrote, adding that the company does not “unreasonable performance goals”.
Despite that, Bezos said he believes Amazon can do better, and announced his ambition to make the company the “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work” – an extension of the company’s longtime mission statement to be “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company”.
Bezos, who currently ranks as the world’s richest person, plans to step down from his role as chief executive this summer and into a new position as executive chairman. He said he would focus his energies on his new upcoming role on the new employee-centric initiative.
“If we want to be Earth’s Best Employer, we shouldn’t settle for 94% of employees saying they would recommend Amazon to a friend as a place to work,” he wrote. “We have to aim for 100%.”