Today, I watched a 60 Minutes segment by Lesley Stahl on Amazon about the working conditions at its wide array of sites across the country. I thought it was classic 60 Minutes, starting off with a theory and then showing only what it can fit in 13 minutes that validates the show’s preconceived point of view. If you have watched 60 Minutes like I have for 40 years (yes, my mom and I used to watch it together as a kid), you know exactly what I am talking about.
Stahl kicks off the segment by saying, “Amazon is the second largest private employer in the country, headed by the richest man on earth.” We all know where this is going, right? She does fairly point out right after that “Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos committed an additional $4 billion, at least for COVID expenses, including more protections for his employees”, but, to me, it setup Amazon first as the huge profiteer “fat cat” that isn’t doing enough to keep workers safe. Stahl comes literally out and says, “But you have been very slow to install your workers protections. And it's hurt your reputation. You've been seen as a company that puts profits ahead of people.”
This would all be great if it were a complete representation, which I believe is not. I do believe some are questioning if it prioritizes profits over people, I haven’t seen any data on its reputation, but disagree that it’s been categorically “slow”. My biggest beef was that the segment didn’t talk enough about what it was doing.
Timing is everything and last week after earnings, I wrote that Amazon is neither winning or profiting from COVID-19 with profits declining 31% and outlined some of the huge and impactful things the company was doing. I pointed out that since the outbreak, Amazon had:
- committed an extra $4B this quarter on top of the $800M the company already spent to increase worker safety
- made over 150 significant process changes at sites around the world to increase the health and safety of its team including obtaining 100M masks and doing mandatory temperature checks
- increased its minimum wage by $2 an hour from $17 an hour, with overtime doubling that to $34 an hour
- provided extra time off with full pay for those diagnosed with COVID-19
- established a $25 M fund for delivery drivers and seasonal workers facing financial hardship or quarantine
- prioritized essential items like household staples, medical supplies to the detriment of its profits
- adjusted Whole Foods hours for high risk customers
- paused its Amazon lending loan repayments for small businesses
All these improvements were being done at the same time it hired 175,000 extra employees for fulfillment and distribution centers. Think about that.
I have worked on assembly lines, milling and drilling shops and in warehouses in Ohio when I was a high school and college student and I was actually impressed with the speed and breadth of what the company has done in so little time. I believe the company has done a lot to increase safety for workers and has gone an extra mile for customers.
I am not saying the company is perfect. And neither is Amazon. Even Dave Clark, head of Amazon Operations said in the segment, “ ..do I wish we were perfect from the day one? Of course.” I believe Amazon has learned a lot from what they have done and are continuing to act like they have done in their businesses for decades.
Net-net, I think the 60 Minutes segment on Amazon only told part of the story. While I appreciate that there’s only so much that can be done in 13 minutes, I also believe when an angle of the story was as it was, it’s important to show everything that the company was doing to keep its workers and customers safe.