Amazon’s CEO Bezos says union push eye-opener, promises better employee treatment

'It’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees'

In his last shareholder letter as Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos said that Amazon has to do better for its workers after facing the biggest union push in its 26-year history. 

In the letter issued Thursday, Bezos acknowledged that he was uneasy about the recent union election in Bessemer, Alabama, despite the "lopsided" results wherein over 1,700 workers rejected a union.

About 1,798 Amazon workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, voted against unionizing while just under 800 voted in favor of it, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which tallied the mailed-in ballots last Friday. 

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"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," Bezos said. 

Workers who were seeking to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) said they spent 10-hour workdays on their feet packing packages and unloading boxes, with only two 30-minute breaks and not enough time to eat lunch, go to the bathroom or recover from the back-breaking work.

However, Bezos, who will leave his post later this year and assume the role of executive chairman of Amazon’s board, defended the company saying that its workers are not treated like robots. 

"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." 

AMAZON WORKERS VOTE AGAINST FORMING A UNION AT ALABAMA WAREHOUSE

Bezos said part of his focus as chair will be to make warehouse jobs safer. He said about 40% of injuries are sprains and strains caused by repeating the same motions and are more likely to happen during a worker’s first six months in the job. He said training may help those "working in a physical role for the first time." And he said the company is deploying technology this year that will change up a worker’s job so they’re not using the same muscles over and over again. 

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, said the letter from Bezos proves what the union had been saying about poor conditions at Amazon’s warehouses.

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"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," Appelbaum said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.