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Monday, October 2, 2023
Oct. 2, 2023

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Amazon investors reject proposals on worker safety, climate impact


SEATTLE — Amazon investors voted against 18 proposals at the company’s annual shareholder meeting Wednesday, opting out of efforts to require Amazon to provide more information on its use of plastics, possible pay disparities and working conditions in its warehouses.

Meanwhile, at the same meeting, CEO Andy Jassy told investors about Amazon’s future focus on artificial intelligence and a shift in its delivery strategy meant to get items to customers faster.

Jassy told investors Amazon is well positioned to weather the current macroeconomic environment and believes the company’s “best days are ahead of us.”

“Rest assured, we’re going to continue doing our part,” Jassy said. “Inventing [and] taking care of our customers, employees and communities to make their lives better and easier.”

The CEO did not take any questions related to the company’s working conditions or impact on climate change. But in the days leading up to the meeting, Amazon tech workers, warehouse associates, shareholders and activists began ramping up their calls for the company to take action in those areas.

On Monday, a group of corporate employees began urging their colleagues to walk-off the job later this month to show frustration with recent layoffs, Amazon’s return to office mandate and a lack of action on climate change, organizers said. The one-day walkout, slated for May 31, hinges on at least 1,000 employees from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters agreeing to participate.

On Tuesday, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Missouri delivered a petition to management with 400 employee signatures asking the company to slow the pace of work, increase break times and conduct an independent safety audit of its facilities.

That same day, protesters gathered outside Amazon’s corporate offices in South Lake Union, calling on the company to decrease pollution from its network of delivery vans. The group of activist organizations asked Amazon to commit to zero-emissions deliveries by 2030.

Amazon has pledged already to reach net-zero carbon by 2040 and plans to have 100,000 electric delivery vans on the road by 2030. Standing outside Amazon headquarters, carrying cardboard boxes that read “deliver change” and signs emblazoned with “Amazon: prime polluter,” protesters said those changes were coming too late.

“We are deeply concerned for our communities in regard to the pollution we face,” said Cesar Arce from Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, a group of employees organizing for better working conditions at Amazon’s air hub in San Bernardino, Calif.

“The smog runs so thick that at times we can’t see where a house is half a mile away. … The sky is always gray over there,” Arce said. “Our communities cannot wait any longer for Amazon to raise its environmental standards.”

Amazon shareholders voted against proposals related to climate actions on Wednesday. One proposal asked Amazon to provide more information about its lobbying efforts to ensure it would address any “misalignments” between its stated climate goals and its lobbying. Another asked for a report on Amazon’s packaging materials, focusing on how it could reduce its use of plastics.

Oceana, a nonprofit ocean conservation organization, said in a report Amazon generated 599 million pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2020. Up to 23.5 million pounds of that entered the world’s marine ecosystems, Oceana said.

Amazon’s board of directors argued the report’s calculations were “seriously flawed” and overestimated the company’s use of plastic. Amazon, the board said, is already working to address plastic waste and support recycling in the industry.

Amazon’s warehouses

Investors also voted against proposals regarding working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses, including one that matched the demand for an independent safety audit in the petition Missouri workers delivered to management before Wednesday’s meeting.

Yvonda Clopton, a worker at Amazon’s Missouri facility, told shareholders at the meeting that the company’s “warehouses aren’t safe for workers like myself.”

“At night, I go home and soak in the tub of Epsom salts to just get myself back together so I can start all over again,” Clopton said. “Shareholders, how long do you think Amazon can keep this up? It’s not too late for Amazon to prioritize both worker safety and profitability.”

Christian Smalls, the president of Amazon Labor Union, the first group of workers to unionize an Amazon facility in Staten Island, N.Y., also spoke to shareholders Wednesday. Smalls urged Amazon to come to the table to negotiate a contract with the union and urged investors to pass a proposal that would spark a third-party assessment of Amazon’s commitment to workers’ right to organize.

Jennifer Bates, an employee at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., called on investors to ask Amazon to consider hourly workers among candidates for directors. “We can make sure that leadership understands its most important asset: the workers,” she said.

Amazon says it has already seen “substantial improvements” in injury rates at its warehouses and has a “solid foundation from which to build” worker safety. The company has invested $1 billion in safety initiatives and plans to invest another $550 million in 2023.

Amazon says it respects the rights of employees to unionize, without fear of reprisal, intimidation or harassment.

At the annual meeting, Jassy told shareholders about Amazon’s new regional approach to its fulfillment network. In the first quarter of this year, Amazon began using eight “interconnected regions” for its warehouse and delivery arm that could operate in a self-sufficient way, making it easier to get packages to customers faster because items are already closer to the doorstep.

That approach has led to a 15% reduction in the distance items travel from fulfillment center to customer and a 12% decrease in how often a package is handled, Jassy said.

Amazon is on track to achieve its fastest shipping speeds for Prime customers this year, but Jassy said “we’re not close to being done working on improving.”

Executive pay

Also on Wednesday, investors approved a 25% cut in compensation for Jassy, because of a nearly 50% drop in Amazon’s stock price over the last year.

Amazon’s board of directors said the reduction is proof its executive pay structure is working as it should during “current market challenges.”

The company prioritizes stock-based compensation that vests over several years to encourage employees to “think and act like owners,” Amazon wrote in its proxy statement. Earlier this year, Amazon announced it may reduce stock awards for employees as of 2025.

In addition to the decline in stock price, Amazon’s board of directors also did not grant Jassy any equity awards in 2022, despite usually doing so in even numbered years, according to Amazon’s proxy statement.

Though shareholders approved a $212 million compensation package, including stock awards that would vest over several years, for Jassy at last year’s annual meeting, only 56% of shareholders voted in favor of the payout. In the year since, the board of directors said it met with investors and heard concerns about the size of awards for promotions and new hires.

A shareholder proposal requesting Amazon consider if its executive pay was in alignment with pay for hourly warehouse workers also failed Wednesday.