Amazon seems to be pushing toward a future in which every American has worked for the company … and hated it. According to leaked documents obtained by Engadget, attrition is costing Amazon $8 billion a year. That’s not just warehouse workers—people at every level, up to vice presidents, leave Amazon in staggering numbers. And it’s not the company shedding dead weight—according to the documents, “Regretted attrition occurs twice as often as unregretted attrition.” In other words, people are twice as likely to leave on their own as to be fired or laid off, a proportion that held true at every level.
Maybe the most staggering number in the documents is this: “Only one out of three new hires in 2021” stayed with Amazon for 90 or more days.
Gee, it sounds like it’s not just warehouse workers who need a union at Amazon. There are clearly plenty of salaried workers who are not willing to put up with how the company treats its workers. In fact, the dominance of this kind of employer-employee relationship—Amazon is the second-largest private employer in the U.S., behind Walmart—might be a clue as to why public approval of unions hit its highest point since 1965 this year, for the second year in a row. A 2021 survey of tech workers found that 50% were interested in joining a union, a figure that rose to 60% among millennial workers.
Previous reports have found enormous turnover among Amazon’s hourly warehouse workers, as high as 150%, much higher than the industry standard, and a rate that has left the company worried that it might “deplete the available labor supply in the US” and literally have no one left to hire. In the warehouses, it’s not hard to see why turnover is so high. According to a 2021 report, Amazon had injury rates nearly double those in other retail warehouses and more than double those at famously awesome employer Walmart.
But these documents show that Amazon doesn’t just have a problem with its lowest-paid workers. Interestingly, one of the big problems they flag with salaried employees is a problem that some of the most experienced and ambitious warehouse workers have also talked about: lack of opportunities to advance. In the warehouses, it’s intentional. The internal promotion rate for hourly workers is less than half that of Walmart, with Amazon preferring to hire “wicked smart” college graduates in management roles, according to a former human resources vice president who spoke to The New York Times in 2021. And—go figure—at the Staten Island warehouse that shocked the world by successfully unionizing earlier this year, that and other policies translated to an hourly workforce that was 60% Black or Latino, while management was more than 70% white or Asian.
Again, though, even managers and other salaried workers at Amazon have frustrations about the lack of opportunities to advance, and the documents Engadget obtained point to the company’s hugely unsuccessful Consumer Talent Strategy, Management, and Development (CTSMD) team. With a 2022 budget of $90 million, CTSMD oversees 97 programs and 2,000 learning modules but, as of last December, “did not have a standardized process to measure impact (business metrics) of our training programs,” according to the documents. Several levels of managers spend an average of 113 hours per year—time that could add up to $715 million of waste—on these training programs that don’t seem to have any real substantiated teaching or business value.
In addition to the messages it sends its workers through how it treats them on the job, Amazon has put its contempt for workers in writing. “A smaller, scrappier Amazon of days past included the line ‘we believe that our future success will depend in part on our continued ability to attract, hire, and retain qualified personnel’ for nearly 20 years in its annual filings, but seemingly abandoned that belief in its report from 2009 onward,” Engadget’s A. Menegus reports. “For the report summarizing 2020, Amazon renamed the ‘employees’ subsection of its preamble to ‘human capital’—the same year it stopped including the phrase ‘we consider our employee relations to be good.’”
Although Amazon tweaked the infamous “time off task” metric in its warehouses in 2021, it remains a crap employer at every level other than, presumably, the very, very top where the policies are made. It’s costing the company so much—$8 billion a year!—that unions could be the thing that would save Amazon’s future, by creating the conditions that would make workers willing to stay at the company. Because as implausible as it sounds that such a big company could run out of workers, internal documents say it has worried about that as a real possibility, and the new batch of documents offers a lot of reasons that might be the case. There are only so many people ready and able to take on warehouse jobs that make them walk miles and miles across concrete floors, stooping and squatting and reaching and lifting all day long, and 100% turnover every year really will endanger the company’s ability to continue finding enough workers. But equally, if a company burns through developers and marketers and data scientists and researchers and account managers, all the way up to vice presidents, eventually it won’t be able to get the best talent, and then it could struggle to get any talent at all. Word could go out in business schools and at industry gatherings that Amazon is not where you want to be.
And turning Amazon into a place where people don’t just start jobs but stay in them does not look like something the current leadership is capable of, even to the extent that the typical major corporation dedicated largely to further enriching a multibillionaire is capable of it. Amazon spent $4.3 million last year on consultants dedicated to preventing its workers from unionizing. It lost much, much more because of its workers leaving. There’s a connection between these things. And the answer could be the same: Stop fighting unions so hard. Rather than investing in knocking workers down, get out of the way of workers building collective power. Amazon might pay more in wages and benefits. It might pay more to stop breaking its warehouse workers’ bodies at such a high rate. But no longer being a company that two out of three new hires leave within 90 days would have some serious benefits.
On Daily Kos’ The Brief, we speak with polling giant Drew Linzer who runs polling firm CIVIQs, comes in to talk about a new poll his team conducted for Daily Kos. He is also here to explain, as a professional, how to not stress out about every time you see a poll going your way or ther other way. One thing is for sure though, we are living in historic times and what that means for these midterms cannot be easily predicted—so Get Out The Vote!
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