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Apr 14, 2022

Amazon CEO vows to curb warehouse worker injuries in first shareholder letter

Brian Acker discusses Amazon

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Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy, in his first letter to shareholders since getting the job last year, pledged to reduce injury rates among frontline workers.

The company has been criticized for a high rate of injuries at its warehouses -- typically nerve, muscle and joint issues caused by overexertion, repetitive strain and poor ergonomics. Though such maladies are less headline-grabbing than serious accidents or deaths -- which also occasionally occur at Amazon facilities -- they can still lead to missed work and lifelong pain. 

“I spent significant time in our fulfillment centers and with our safety team, and hoped there might be a silver bullet that could change the numbers quickly,” Jassy wrote in the missive, which was posted to Amazon’s website Thursday. “I didn’t find that.”

He said the company was helping reduce the time workers spend doing the same repetitive motions, has issued wearable devices that warn employees when they’re moving in an unsafe fashion and provided training. 

“But we still have a ways to go,” he said. 

Last year, Amazon announced a US$12 million, five-year partnership with the National Safety Council to analyze and prevent the most frequent injuries in its warehouses.

The CEO also took investors through Amazon’s pandemic experience, laying out the company’s heavy spending on logistics to meet a sudden surge in online shopping, which he said was comparable to cramming three years’ of forecasted growth at the consumer division into about 15 months. Amazon shares were down about 1 per cent at 9:55 a.m. in New York. 

Jeff Bezos, in his last letter to shareholders in 2021, said it was time to focus more on the welfare of workers. The company subsequently pledged to become the “Earth’s best employer.” Last week, Bloomberg reported that the executive responsible for the Earth’s best employer initiative was leaving. 

Earlier this month, an upstart union won a decisive election at an Amazon warehouse in New York. The company has appealed the outcome and has until April 22 to provide a labor board with evidence to back up those claims. 

In a CNBC interview on Thursday, Jassy said it was workers’ choice whether or not to join a union but that “we happen to think they’re better off not doing so.”