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In parting letter to shareholders, Bezos says Amazon ‘needs to do a better job’ for its workers

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Jeff Bezos published his final letter to Amazon shareholders as CEO on Thursday, stating that the company still has a ways to go in better serving its employees.

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The letter covered a long list of topics, detailing the company’s profits over the last year, harkening back to Bezos’ first letter to Amazon shareholders in 1997, and outlining his plans for the new role he’ll soon be occupying as Executive Chair.

Most notably, though, he addressed working conditions that have frequently come under scrutiny over the last year, culminating in a controversial union vote from Alabama warehouse workers.

Workers at the Bessemer warehouse overwhelmingly voted against unionization, but Amazon has since fielded criticism for employing tactics labor groups claim interfered with and suppressed the vote. That includes mandated anti-union meetings for Bessemer employees, fliers discouraging unionizing posted in bathroom stalls, and pressuring of the U.S. Postal Service to install a drop box for ballots directly outside the plant, all of which activists argue were designed to coerce workers to vote against organizing.

“Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t,” Bezos said in his letter. “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 added.

Bezos went on to address a growing narrative claiming that warehouse workers and delivery drivers are often pushed so hard to meet quotas that they aren’t even able to take bathroom breaks.

That came to a head in recent weeks, after a Tweet from Wisconsin Rep. Marc Pocan criticized the company over allegations that its delivery drivers frequently have to urinate in bottles.

An official Amazon account responded shortly afterwards, saying, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.” That spurred a flood of social media responses from Amazon drivers that appeared to corroborate Pocan’s claim.

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While the company later apologized for the Twitter post and acknowledged that “drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms,” Bezos took issue with the larger narrative implied by Pocan.

“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,” he said. “They’re sophisticated and thoughtful people who have options for where to work.”

“Employees are able to take informal breaks throughout their shifts to stretch, get water, use the rest room, or talk to a manager, all without impacting their performance,” he continued. “These informal work breaks are in addition to the 30-minute lunch and 30-minute break built into their normal schedule.”

Bezos went on to acknowledge that he believes “we need a better vision for employees’ success,” promising to “focus on new initiatives” as Executive Chair that focus on improving employee satisfaction, and lauding existing work being done to decrease musculoskeletal disorders among workers brought on by repetitive, intense labor.

Bezos announced he’d be stepping down as Amazon’s CEO in early February. Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy will step in to run things beginning in the third quarter of 2021.

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