The Supply Chain Matters blog calls reader attention to a potentially noteworthy statement made by Amazon’s new CEO.

Business Network CNBC reported this week that Any Jassy, the online retailer’s new CEO, speaking at a tech industry summit held in Seattle, had indicated that there was more the company could do to treat employees better. He reportedly further acknowledged that one of the retailer’s approaches to worker safety during the pandemic fell short.

Jassy specifically pointed to the company’s processes relative to customer fulfillment employees, who were essentially classified essential workers during the pandemic, and seeking either a short or long-term paid sick leave because of virus symptoms or quarantine requirements. Instead, the online retailer’s highly automated human resource system became overloaded with volume and exception needs, causing in some cases, employees to not be approved, or automatically threatened with termination for not showing up at scheduled work assignments. There are some estimates that as many as 20,000 workers became infected last year.

Bloomberg had reported in June of last year that Amazon’s human resources department was ill prepared to manage the thousands of requests pouring in from sick employees and those who need to stay home to care for their children or elderly relatives. That report had observed that the design of Amazon’s HR department reflects the strengths and weaknesses of the company’s culture. Business processes are heavily automated, which helps the company grow quickly and restrain costs but leaves employees frustrated with chatbots, smartphone apps and phone trees that lead to no timely resolution of needs. Bloomberg reported that HR employees became overwhelmed because they could not keep up with the number of exceptions of claims that had to be investigated for further documentation and validation of illness. An outsourced call center did not help and reports at the time indicated that the online retailer had become overwhelmed by the volume of leave requests.

 

Supply Chain Matters Perspective

When Andy Jassy was announced as the successor to Jeff Bezos, this blog published a commentary addressing what businesses and supply chain management teams should watch for. There was much skepticism in industry circles as to whether Jassy would influence a different labor relations perspective or continue with the ongoing culture.

In his letter of departure from the role of CEO, Bezos actually hinted that the company needed to pay close attention to employee practices. That might have been a signal.

Since taking the CEO reign, Amazon’s labor relations have undergone added pressures.

We noted that the California Legislature has passed a bill which takes direct aim at Amazon’s system administered employee performance monitoring. The legislation would require Amazon to disclose any work quotas being applied to workers at facilities within that state. The legislation supporter’s aim was to further allow state regulators to assess whether performance goals applied to employees are affecting the health and safety of workers.

Employee quotas and break times were among the reasons that employees sought to organize at the Amazon customer fulfillment facility in Bessemer Alabama earlier this year. While the results of that organizing effort did not succeed, the election remains contested after a Federal official ruled that Amazon violated election practices during the vote, a charge being denied.

News that that warehouse workers in Alberta, Canada have petitioned for a union election add to the perspectives of the company’s work practices and culture. Worker grievances are indicated to be job security, pace of work, and wages, among others.

 

Observing Amazon is a practice of paying close attention to the nuances of what the company’s senior executives declare, and what concrete actions follow. The online retailer is a master of public relations messaging and fostering a positive corporate persona while internal practices can tell a different story.

In the case of Andy Jassy, Supply Chain Matters senses more candor and more resolve in addressing corporate practices and changes. That may be because external perceptions as to existing work practices are growing sour with each passing week.

As in all things related to Amazon, time and added actions, either internal or externally induced, will tell what progress is subsequently made. If this turns out to be a genuine effort to improve, than we should all acknowledge when that eventually happens.

 

Bob Ferrari

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