Amazon VP and distinguished engineer Tim Bray has called it quits over the company’s alleged firing of whistleblowers.
In a piece published to his website, Bray said exiting the Seattle-based e-tailer will cost him over a million dollars before taxes. He added that he’s leaving behind “the best job I’ve ever had, working with awfully good people.” Despite this, Bray said allegations of unsafe conditions for warehouse workers during the pandemic — coupled with firings of activist staff members — caused him to “snap” last week.
On Thursday, Bray wrote, two Amazon Employees for Climate Justice activists, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, were fired. The employees had internally promoted a petition calling for greater worker protections and also organized a video chat with warehouse workers from Amazon facilities located around the world. While Amazon gave other reasons for their termination, Bray said “it was clear to any reasonable observer that [Cunningham and Costa] were turfed for whistleblowing.”
Bray also pointed to the firing of Christian Smalls. Shortly after leading a walkout at Amazon’s Staten Island, N.Y. facility — the protest was organized to call out perceived health and safety inadequacies at the facility — Smalls was terminated. Amazon said he was let go after receiving “multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines.”
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In an email to FN, Amazon declined to comment for this story. However, Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty told FN last week that the company had implemented more than 150 changes to date aimed at keeping workers safe amid the pandemic. Additionally, the e-tailer has invested $700 million to boost pay for employees during the crisis.
Bray said he believes that Amazon is taking these steps to improve conditions for warehouse staff but that he also believes the allegations raised by the workers. And according to Bray, the problem isn’t just the purported lack of COVID-19-related protections anyway; the bigger issue, he said, is that “Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.”
“Amazon is exceptionally well-managed and has demonstrated great skill at spotting opportunities and building repeatable processes for exploiting them. It has a corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power,” Bray wrote. “Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture.”
In addition to Bray and other Amazon staff, numerous U.S. elected officials have also raised concerns regarding a purported lack of warehouse worker protections.
In April, five U.S. senators — including former Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand — wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos inquiring about Smalls’ firing. They also expressed concerns about short supplies of personal protective equipment following reports that the retailer had masks and gloves only in “limited quantities.” Additionally, two weeks ago, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, wrote a letter to the e-commerce giant inquiring as to whether the company has violated federal worker health and safety laws. James also believes New York’s whistleblower protections may have been violated by Smalls’ termination.