Amazon CEO Andy Jassy says the corporate might deal with employees higher
Andy Jassy, CEO Amazon Web Services, speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California on October 25, 2016.
Mike Blake | Reuters
Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon, said Tuesday the company could do more to better treat employees, admitting that one of its occupational safety approaches was not doing enough during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think when you have a large group of people like us – we have 1.2 million employees – it’s almost like a small country,” said Jassy on the stage at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle. “There are many things that could be done better.”
When asked what Amazon could do better, Jassy referred to the company’s processes around pandemic leave in its warehouses. Amazon told workers it would give employees who showed symptoms, had the virus, or were in quarantine up to two weeks of paid sick leave.
But this process didn’t work perfectly. Amazon employees told CNBC last April that they were having trouble getting paid while on vacation. In addition, the company’s highly automated HR systems were so overloaded with workers requesting Covid-19 vacation that some employees were falsely denied sick leave or threatened with dismissal, Bloomberg reported.
“During the pandemic at our fulfillment centers, we had a system and process where people could apply for short and long term vacations, and the process just didn’t scale,” Jassy said. “We never expected to have a pandemic or demand like that. It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.”
Amazon and other e-commerce companies benefited from the surge in online orders caused by the coronavirus. However, the pandemic also put unprecedented strain on Amazon’s fulfillment and logistics operations, testing the company’s relationship with its frontline workers who couldn’t work remotely. Amazon announced last October that between March 1, 2020 and September 19, 2020, almost 20,000 front-line workers contracted Covid-19.
The coronavirus pandemic created growing pressure among warehouse and delivery workers at Amazon to advocate better working conditions, leading to protests and attempts to organize. In the months leading up to his resignation as CEO, Amazon founder and chairman Jeff Bezos outlined a vision to make the company “the best place to work” and promised to treat workers better.
“We don’t pretend to be perfect,” said Jassy. “Sometimes I think there are exaggerations and anecdotal references that don’t reflect the whole thing. But there is a lot that we can continue to work on and that we will work on. “
Jassy also said he was interested in reshaping Amazon’s relationship with the city of Seattle, where the company is headquartered. Seattle lawmakers sparked hostility with Amazon in 2018 when they passed a so-called “poll tax,” which aimed to collect higher taxes from large corporations. Lawmakers eventually cut the tax, but that did little to mend the city’s relationship with Amazon.
“I honestly think our relationship with Seattle has had its ups and downs. I think the first 20 years at the company have been quite collaborative,” said Jassy. “I would say in the last five years, as you know, the city council has fallen less in love with business or Amazon, it has just been rougher.”
In recent years, Amazon has expanded its presence outside of Seattle. The company has hired staff in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle, and has leased office space in Microsoft’s long-time home in Redmond, Washington.
“We don’t think HQ1 is Seattle anymore. We really see it as Puget Sound, ”said Jassy. “We have a lot of people in Seattle, but we also have a lot of people in Bellevue, and that’s where most of our growth will end.”
SEE: California Governor Newsom signs law to strengthen the protection of warehouse workers