Amazon has asked federal regulators to block a shareholder proposal from the AFL-CIO that would require the company to consider qualified women and non-white candidates for open positions in all roles.
The labor union filed a resolution last month asking the Seattle-based commerce behemoth to adopt something akin to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” requiring that recruiters consider a diverse pool of new hire candidates. Citing Amazon’s self-reported demographic data, the union said the fact that Amazon’s highest-paid employees are overwhelmingly white men needs to change.
“If you don’t have a diverse pipeline of talent, it could be hard to fulfill the roles of ensuring equity throughout the organization,” said AFL-CIO deputy director Brandon Rees. The union’s proposal, he said, “is not a silver bullet to ensuring equity, but we think it’s an important and useful tool.”
Amazon is also attempting to exclude a shareholder proposal from the New York State Common Retirement Fund that would require the company to conduct an audit on race and diversity, Bloomberg reported last week.
If granted, Amazon’s requests would mean shareholders would not have an opportunity to vote on those proposals at the company’s shareholder meeting this year.
Amazon did not immediately respond to questions for this story. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) declined to comment on whether it intended to allow Amazon to drop the proposals from the shareholder meeting docket.
In its letter to the SEC asking for permission to nix the AFL-CIO’s proposal, Amazon argued that setting goals for candidate diversity is unnecessary because it has already “substantially implemented” similar measures.
Amazon partners with diverse colleges and institutions and hosts career fairs “to help people — regardless of their level of experience, professional field, or background — find new opportunities,” Amazon told the regulator. Last year, Amazon doubled the number of Black directors and vice presidents at the company, and “is committed to doubling representation again in 2021.”
Amazon also said in its letter that while it is “fully aligned with the objective of the Proposal,” ensuring that new employees are hired from a diverse pool of candidates may be infeasible in the context of its massive push to staff new fulfillment centers. Amazon hired more than 400,000 new workers worldwide last year as it expanded its warehouse footprint by 50% to meet pandemic-induced demand for online shopping.
In its proposal, the AFL-CIO acknowledged that Amazon has made substantial efforts to increase the number of women and people of color working at the company. Still, most Amazon managers were white men at the end of 2019, the last year for which Amazon has reported data, and men are overrepresented in Amazon’s overall workforce.
After criticism from employees and the Congressional Black Caucus, Amazon in 2018 approved a shareholder proposal asking the company to consider diverse candidates for open positions on its board of directors, which at that point was entirely white.
The next year, two women of color — PepsiCo executive Indra Nooyi and Starbucks chief operating officer Roz Brewer — joined the board.
Brewer, though, is leaving Starbucks to helm Walgreens Boots Alliance, which competes with Amazon’s recent forays into the mail-order pharmacy business, the coffee giant announced Tuesday. She will depart Amazon’s board effective Feb. 16, according to a Wednesday federal securities filing, leaving the board without any Black members.