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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos told shareholders that the retail giant needs a “better vision” for its workers following union organising efforts at its facility in Alabama, the largest unionising effort yet under the company.
“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 said in a statement to shareholders on Thursday.
He admitted that despite the vote – in which workers’ ballots in favour of unionising the warehouse were outnumbered by a two-to-one margin – Amazon must “do a better job for our employees.”
Union organisers with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union have vowed to challenge the results, alleging that Amazon interfered with employers’ rights to vote in the union election, and created an “atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees’ freedom of choice”.
Union president Stuart Applebaum said Mr Bezos’s “admission” to shareholders “demonstrates that what we have been saying about workplace conditions is correct.”
“But his admission won’t change anything, workers need a union – not just another Amazon public relations effort in damage control,” he said in a statement.
Officials with the National Labor Relations Board tallied 1,798 votes against unionising the warehouse and 738 votes in support. Seventy-six ballots were voided, and 505 ballots were challenged. The number of those remaining ballots not included in the count were not sufficient to affect the outcome, the board said.
The 3,117 ballots among the 5,876 voting-eligible workers marked a 53 per cent turnout for the election.
Following the ballot count, the union announced plans to file its objections and raise complaints about the company’s behaviour to the labour board.
Labour advocates have argued that the organising effort against the nation’s second-largest company, helmed by the world’s wealthiest man, could have a seismic impact on union organising across the US, within Amazon and elsewhere.
“The impact on Amazon’s reputation by this campaign has been devastating, regardless of the vote result,” Mr Applebaum said. “We have initiated a global debate about the way Amazon treats its employees.”
The anti-union campaign included text messages, one-on-one meetings and mandatory meetings on the warehouse floor and a social media PR blitz, among other tactics reported by workers and organisers.
Warehouse management also coordinated with the US Postal Service and Amazon headquarters to stage a ballot dropbox in front of the warehouse under a tent provided by the company, which union organisers allege was used to intimidate workers.
In a statement toThe Independent, a company spokesperson said the dropbox was installed to establish a “simple, secure and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less”.
The company’s efforts during the union campaign to dismiss accusations about the lack of bathroom access only amplified reporting and employee testimonies about workers facing pressure to meet Amazon’s deadlines without bathroom breaks or risk being punished by management.
That reporting followed other reports – including testimony to Congress – about increased surveillance, safety protocols and other concerns among workers raised by the union campaign.
In his statement, despite acknowledging the union push, Mr Bezos defended his company’s record and claimed those reports are not “accurate”.
“If you read some of the news reports, you might think we have no care for employees,” he said. “In those reports, our employees are sometimes accused of being desperate souls and treated as robots.”
He claimed that 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,” contrary to worker testimonies reported in multiple outlets.
The letter marks his final one as CEO – he is stepping down in the third fiscal quarter and taking a role as executive chairman. Andy Jassy will be his replacement.