Amazon backs legal pot, mellows on employee testing and tracking

Dave Clark.

Amazon is supporting federal legislation that would both legalize marijuana and purge the criminal records of people previously arrested on pot charges. Additionally, the company will stop screening for use of the drug for certain classifications of employees.

But perhaps the biggest news for hundreds of thousands of warehouse employees is that the online retail giant is modifying its infamous Time off Task employee tracking software to provide more breathing room for bathroom breaks, conversations with supervisors, and equipment repair. 

The changes, revealed in a blog post by Dave Clark, CEO of the worldwide consumer division, comes on the heels of another report about the company’s unusually high warehouse injury rate

“Starting today, we’re now averaging Time off Task over a longer period to ensure that there’s more signal and less noise—reinforcing the original intent of the program, and focusing Time off Task conversations on how we can help,” Clark wrote in the post published Tuesday. 

“The goal is to re-focus the conversations on instances where there are likely true operational issues to resolve. We believe this change will help ensure the Time off Task policy is used in the way it was intended.”

On the same day as Clark’s post, union-backed Strategic Organizing Center published a study that it said showed Amazon fulfillment centers had 5.9 serious injuries for every 100 employees, a rate nearly 80% higher than non-Amazon warehouses. Similar to the reasons stated for the attempted union organization in Bessemer, Ala. this spring, the SOC blamed Amazon’s Time-off-Task-driven work culture and pressure.

It was during that failed attempt to unionize workers in Alabama that one of Clark’s anti-union tweets gained national attention after he attempted to spar with Sen. Bernie Sanders: 

— Forcing workers to urinate in bottles
— Firing pregnant women for taking too many bathroom breaks
— Hiring analysts to monitor ‘labor organizing threats’
— Making employees attend mandatory anti-union meetings

This is what a senior VP of Amazon calls a “progressive workplace.”

— Robert Reich (@RBReich) March 24, 2021

But Clark’s post on Tuesday post reveals a decidedly different tack. While voicing support for the federal pot legalization and relaxed marijuana testing in a country where 17 states have now legalized recreational marijuana, Clark emphasized that the company sees a world beyond fast delivery.

Like many other corporations, he wrote, Amazon has purged prospective employees for pot use. That is now changing. 

“However, given where state laws are moving across the U.S., we’ve changed course,” he wrote. “We will no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program for any positions not regulated by the Department of Transportation, and will instead treat it the same as alcohol use.” 

Additionally, he added, the company is supporting the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021, legislation that would legalize pot and help clear expunge criminal records while investing in communities most affected by severe drug laws.

“We hope that other employers will join us, and that policymakers will act swiftly to pass this law.”

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