Bezos, who is set to step down from his role as CEO this year, said: “Despite what we’ve accomplished, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success.”
The pledge closely follows a union battle with Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, who cast ballots over whether to form a union, but ultimately lost.
In the letter, Bezos said: “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.”
Responding to this statement, Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), said: “The impact on Amazon’s reputation by this campaign has been devastating, regardless of the vote result. We have initiated a global debate about the way Amazon treats its employees.
“Bezos’s admission today 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.”
Bezos’ letter also comes amid further criticism of employee treatment at the company. A recent leaked memo to delivery staff showed that the group explicitly told its workers to avoid urinating in bottles while on duty, despite denials it made on 25 March, for example.
Workers reportedly told the Intercept that they were “implicitly forced” to urinate and defecate while out for delivery, as too many undelivered packages would cause them to “end up losing our jobs”.
In his latest letter to shareholders, Bezos wrote that “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. That’s not accurate. They’re sophisticated and thoughtful people who have options for where to work. When we survey fulfillment center employees, 94% 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.”