Just barely a year ago, Tara Jones was an Amazon warehouse worker in Oklahoma. She just had a child and was expecting more in the paycheck she had just received from Amazon. What she saw instead was a $90 shortchange from her usual $540 paycheck.
She reported the issue and thought the problem would be fixed and that $90 would be added to her next check. Not only was she wrong about that, but the $90 was taken out again. And again. And again.
So fed up with the unresolved issue that continued to get worse, Jones decided to go right to the top. She wrote an emotional email to Amazon’s founder and then CEO, Jeff Bezos. “I’m behind on bills, all because the pay team messed up,” she wrote to Bezos. “I’m crying as I write this email.”
What Jones thought to be her own isolated issue turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. Her email jumpstarted an internal investigation showing she was by far not the only one that Amazon short shrift, financially speaking.
What the investigation found was for at least a year and a half, which included the time period of Amazon’s record profit, they not only cut into Jones’ pay, but they also came up short to other new parents, workers dealing with medical issues or crises, and other vulnerable workers on leave. Some of the pay handed out had been wrong, the investigation found since doors opened a year prior. The findings also showed that up to 179 of Amazon’s other warehouses had been affected as well.
Numerous interviews by the New York Times and hundreds of pages of internal documents later discovered that the above issues only touched the surface of problems surrounding Amazon’s ability to handle paid and unpaid leave. The investigation brought forth the widespread issues that not only touched the blue-collar workers but the company’s white-collar workers as well. The errors, more destructive than previously known, amount to what some Amazon insiders say is its human resources gravest issue.
What they saw was workers across the nation who were faced with medical problems or other life troubles got fired when the company’s software marked them as a no-show by mistake. Those workers who would produce doctor notes to back up their medical troubles would see those notes simply vanish from the Amazon databases.
Large numbers of employees even struggled to simply get through to their case managers, instead, dealing with the never-ending loop of automated phone calls that took their complaints to staff in India, Costa Rica, or Las Vegas. There was no relief. Making matters worse was a leave system that was slapped together with outdated computer programs that had a hard time speaking to one another.
Those workers who somehow found themselves ready to return to work were greeted with a system that was beyond backed up to process them back into the workforce, many times resulting in weeks or even months of lost wages.
Those employees who were higher on the food chain who had to also deal with the same antiquated system, found out that trying to schedule a simple leave could oftentimes take forever. Company administrators would take to internal correspondences to warn of “deficient processes” or “inadequate service levels” also informing all employees that the systems are “prone to delay and error.” Still, the damage was done.
Take, for instance, 54-year-old James Watt, who was a Chattanooga Amazon worker for six years before repeated heart attacks and strokes forced him to go on disability leave from the company. The system processed him out causing him to suddenly lose his disability payments. The result was shocking, disheartening, and full of loss.
“Not a word that there had ever been a problem,” Watts said in reference to the horrible Amazon system.
His loss of disability benefits caused an unfortunate chain of events – his car was repossessed and to pay for food and his medical bills, Watts and his wife were forced to sell their wedding rings for cash. “We’re losing everything,” he said.
While it shouldn’t be shocking to hear of all this mistreatment from one of the biggest companies in the world, it is. It puts a bullseye on the back of Amazon since most of these reported troubles came when the company was rising to the top of the retail business ladder. Sadly, the focus leaned more on the company’s well-being versus the well-being of its trusted employees.
“A lot of times, because we’ve optimized for the customer experience, we’ve been focused on that,” said Bethany Reyes via Yahoo News. She has the difficult task of fixing Amazon’s leave system, stressing that they are working tirelessly to rebalance priorities.
These priorities were a subject new Amazon CEO, Andy Jassy, touched on recently stating the obvious when he said that their process “didn’t work the way we wanted it to work.” He has since pledged to make Amazon “Earth’s best employer.”They’ve got a lot of work to do on that front. They should start by making it right with all those they’ve wronged.