New reports examine Amazon’s strained ‘employment machine’ and alleged race problem
Amazon’s employment practices came under the microscope Tuesday as two detailed reports from the New York Times and Recode reveal how the tech giant is struggling to manage its massive workforce amid allegations of racial inequity and poor treatment of warehouse workers.
Amazon’s only fulfillment center in New York City reached shipping records and increased sales during the pandemic, but a New York Times investigation shows that the company’s method of managing its people was strained. The NYT found that the retail giant “burned through” workers in firings, stalled benefits and failed communication.
The Times summarized its findings here. Some other takeaways from its report:
- Amazon’s turnover rate for hourly associates is about 150% a year, even before the pandemic, according to the NYT. The turnover rate concerns some executives who compared the problem to burning fossil fuels despite climate change.
- Amazon’s disability and leave system experienced glitches which led to workers who applied for leave to be penalized for missing work and mistakenly fired.
- Employees are tracked by their speed. Moving too slowly or having too much idle time could result in being fired, the report found.
- In 2019, more than 60% of employees at Amazon’s New York fulfillment center, JFK8, were Black or Latino. But the NYT found that Black warehouse employees were 50% more likely to be fired than their white peers.
We have *lot* of new info on Amazon. Please read the article– a real story, with twists. But here’s a roadmap of our findings on sky-high turnover, alarming racial inequities, mistaken firings, and how it all ties back to Bezos' ideas about lazy workers. https://t.co/8coY7cFIcK
— Jodi Kantor (@jodikantor) June 15, 2021
Workers leave Amazon for many reasons, and some say they are grateful for a good short-term job at $15 with benefits, but that turnover rate is far above Amazon's peers and suggest a different employment model
— Karen Weise (@KYWeise) June 15, 2021
Amazon’s treatment of employees has been scrutinized as of late, with a closely-watched unionization movement at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., earlier this year. Employees voted against union representation by a large margin, ending what was the most serious effort to unionize a segment of the workforce in the 27-year-old company.
In his annual shareholders letter released in April, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said he was committed to making Amazon “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”
In a separate report from Recode also released Tuesday, dozens of Amazon’s Black employees recounted racial bias and discrimination against them.
Five different lawsuits against Amazon from current and former employees have been filed recently, each by women of color alleging racial discrimination.
Beyond the lawsuits, the Recode report also noted experiences of discrimination from more than 30 Amazon employees. Many called out the department’s leader, Beth Galetti, whose prior experience is not in HR but software. They also said the problem is rooted in Amazon’s cutthroat and competitive culture.
Other takeaways from the Recode report:
- Amazon’s diversity, equity and inclusion division has undergone multiple changes. Amazon temporarily placed an employment lawyer as head of the division who doesn’t have experience with DEI work, according to Recode. That lawyer has now been moved off of the DEI team.
- Employees said prior to the murder of George Floyd, Amazon’s HR didn’t prioritize DEI work. They told Recode that Galetti downplayed or resisted the idea that employees in underrepresented groups are at a natural disadvantage to their peers.
- Amazon has shown progress in increasing the number of underrepresented employees in corporate positions, primarily entry-level and middle management. The company released data earlier this year showing that the number of Black and Latinx employees grew from 5.4% and 6.6% respectively in 2019 to 7.2% and 7.5% in 2020. Black and Latinx executives accounted for 1.9% and 2.9% of senior leadership positions, respectively, in 2019, and 3.8% and 3.9%, respectively, in 2020, according to Recode.
Thread: In February, we published an investigation on allegations from Black Amazon corporate employees about bias inside the company (https://t.co/AoCUdWuPqm)
I've since tried to learn why these issues fester. A common thread has been Amazon's HR dept.https://t.co/GgyQqMcK3w
— Jason Del Rey (@DelRey) June 15, 2021
We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment on the reports and will update when we hear back.