September 19, 2020

Senior Amazon official resigns after layoffs of workers seeking protection from the virus

Amazon Web Services vice president and engineer Tim Bray has resigned and released a letter accusing the company of firing the most critical workers with their working conditions.

“I resign with dismay at Amazon, firing those who raised their voices for warehouse employees concerned about Covid-19,” the letter begins.

Bray has been working since 2014 in the Vancouver office of Amazon Web Services, the company’s web storage division.

His writing tells how, as the coronavirus crisis began, Amazon fired a warehouse worker who called for better protection conditions. That was in the United States in early April. The press accessed an internal document that revealed Amazon’s strategy to justify itself. “[El trabajador] he is neither clever nor eloquent. Since the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a better position if we only explain for the umpteenth time how we try to protect workers. “

Warehouse employees then turned to ‘white collar’ employees in the technology area, who enjoy better conditions and higher wages. Last year, about 9,000 of them organized and created the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) group. These prepared and sent a request for signatures in which they demanded better protection measures in warehouses.

Amazon then fired two of the movement’s leaders, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa. “The justifications were a joke: it was clear that they were fired for reporting,” continues Bray’s letter.

“The company could have objected, demanded that outsiders be excluded, that the bosses be represented or whatever. But they simply fired the activists,” he adds. “At that point I exploded. I climbed it internally. Once this was done, continuing as Amazon vice president would have meant agreeing with the actions he was criticizing. So I resigned.” Bray also points out that all those fired are people of color, women, or both. “It sure is a coincidence, isn’t it?” He says.

In his letter, the ex-vice president adds several phrases that in his opinion describe the dismissals of activists: “chicken shit” [‘chickenshit’], “kill the messenger”, “not know the Streissand effect” or “designed to create a climate of fear”. Spanish warehouse unions also called for better security measures at the start of the crisis. Amazon did not close its warehouses, despite having detected cases of coronavirus in the workforce.

“Firing whistleblowers is not just a side effect of macroeconomic forces. It is evidence of toxicity that runs through the company culture,” Bray concludes. “Warehouse workers are weak and weakening more and more, due to mass unemployment and job-linked health insurance in the United States. They will be treated like shit because of capitalism. Any solution starts with their collective strength.”


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