It’s normal for problems to arise when you run a global business that employs over one million people. If you begin to notice a pattern, it is time to question if these mistakes were made intentionally or if something else is happening. An investigation by the New York Times revealed that Amazon had been deliberately shortchanging employees on their wages.
Sometimes all it takes to make a difference is one small voice. Tara Jones is a mother with a baby. According to the Oklahoma Amazon warehouse worker, Tara Jones wrote a touching note to Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO at the time), complaining that she was being underpaid. Her monthly work-related check was $90 less than she was entitled to. The world’s richest man wrote that she was behind in her bills due to the mistakes of the pay team. Jones emotionally pleads, “I’m still crying as I write this mail.”
The investigative piece was inspired partly by Jones. According to a confidential report, the New York Times claimed that Amazon had been shortchanging new parents, medically ill patients, and other workers in need of leave for at least one year and a quarter.
According to the inquiry, “Some of her pay calculations had been incorrect since her facility opened over a year ago.” Potentially, 179 other warehouses of the company were also affected.
Heartbreaking stories were shared about cars being repossessed, stopped disability payments and the need to sell wedding rings. There was also a lot of misfirings due to allegedly faulty software. According to the investigative findings, workers in facilities across the country were faced with problematic payroll software. This led to people with medical problems or other life crises being fired after the attendance software mismarked them as no-shows. It was also reported that doctors’ notes disappeared into Amazon’s black holes. Workers struggled to reach their case managers by wading through automated telephone trees.
Workers have complained repeatedly about the mistreatment they received by Amazon. An earlier New York Times investigative piece detailed the hard working conditions that Amazon employees endured at a Staten Island fulfillment warehouse during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the article, Bezos believed that he had discovered another inefficiency that he should eliminate: hourly employees who worked for years at the same company. Sources say that Bezos believed that workers expect raises but become complacent and don’t work as hard over time. Thus, productivity drops and wages rise while productivity increases.
It was possible to replace workers before productivity deteriorated further and wages rose. It is more efficient to hire new, fresh people. Amazon basically encouraged workers to quit. This constant churning of workers kept efficiency high and wages low. It was the accepted wisdom that hourly workers were no longer eligible for automatic raises after three years of service. The company also offered bonuses to those who quit. The company preferred to hire managers from outside and offered little upward mobility to hourly workers.
According to the New York Times, “Turnover at Amazon has been much higher than other companies – with an annual rate of approximately 150% for warehouse workers.” Amazon fulfillment centers have received many complaints from workers. The workers claimed that they are being given hard-working tasks in the warehouses. Workers also expressed their disgust at intrusive surveillance technology, such as automated tracking systems and cameras that track their movements. Workers fear being fired if they don’t reach certain quotas. Workers have been calling for unionization. Alabama tried to organize a union, but it was unsuccessful.
The retailer created “WorkingWell” to improve the mental health of warehouse workers and their fulfillment centers. It also offers wellness programs for employees. The program was launched as part of a massive online-shopping venture to invest more than $300 million in safety projects for its workers in 2021.
AmaZen is a part of the wellness program. The interactive kiosks at work sites “guide employees through mindfulness practices.” Employees are encouraged “to visit AmaZen stations” and to watch short videos that feature easy-to-follow well being activities such as guided meditations and positive affirmations.
The rollout did not get the positive reviews that the company hoped for. The online vitriol was a sham. It was clear that the program stirred up all the anger that had been simmering against the online giant.
It also includes the treatment of employees. Bezos, the outgoing CEO, was resentful of Bezos. He made billions to supplement his already impressive net worth while millions of Americans suffered layoffs and a sharp decline in their living and financial standards.
Vice reported that Amazon had created tiny booths in warehouses so workers could temporarily escape the grueling work of warehouse labor.
Bethany Reyes was an Amazon human resource professional who was charged with fixing the company’s leave system. She told the New York Times that Amazon was trying to balance its mantra of “optimizing for the customer”. This basically means that we have failed to consider the needs of our employees while we are focusing on getting products to customers quickly.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel stated, “We are disappointed when any of Amazon’s employees experience an issue regarding their leave.” Nantel added, “The New York Times article indicates that these issues are widespread, ongoing.” They are not. They are not. In fact, less than 1% of those on paid leave have experienced an issue due to the controls that we have implemented in the past 18 months. The unprecedented nature of [Covid-19] put a strain upon our system’s ability and capacity to keep up with demand. We’ve been hard at work inventing and investing to make it better every day.