Tim Bray, Distinguished Engineer and VP at Amazon, posted a scathing statement about the company’s practice of firing whistleblowers shortly after quitting on May 1st. While executive hostility toward whistleblowers has been an ongoing issue for the retail giant. Bray claims that a recent string of firings caused him to “snap.”
Controversial Labor Practices
Amazon has long faced criticism over its labor practices. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has been slammed for failing to follow safety measures in its warehouses.
Workers have spoken out about a shortage of protective gear. And insufficient physical distancing between employees on the floor. Further complaints have surfaced over a lack of transparency regarding which employees tested positive for the virus. All the while, outbreaks of COVID-19 have occurred in Amazon warehouses across multiple cities.
Amazon has fired a number of employees after they spoke out against the company’s alleged negligent practices. Bray names six Amazon employees in particular. Whom he believes were canned as a result of either whistleblowing or organizing to demand safer work conditions. Those individuals included Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls.
Costa and Cunningham were involved in an internal group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ). Which organized to demand the company invest in more environmentally-sustainable practices. Members of AECJ have been censured by the company in the past, and Bray insists that Costa and Cunningham’s removal were clearly a result of their efforts to hold the company to account.
The firing of Chris Smalls, a New York warehouse employee, drew media attention and even the concern of New York Attorney General Letitia James. Smalls had organized a walkout in March. To protest unacceptable safety conditions as the coronavirus crisis was beginning in earnest in the United States. Directly after. The company fired him for “violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk.” But Attorney General James saw through the thinly-veiled excuse for firing a dissenter, calling the Smalls’ removal “disgraceful.”
The VP Takes A Stand
Bray’s blog post is an impassioned condemnation of the entire company. And the systems it upholds. He insists that his decision to leave is based on moral outrage. Conceding that leaving his position would cost him about $1 million in salary and stock.
“Remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised… So I resigned,” he explains. He then points to the fact that all of the high-profile whistleblowers fired for their actions were persons of color, women, or both.
Still, Bray notes that Amazon’s retaliatory culture existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic. He sums up his opinion of Amazon this way:
“The big problem isn’t the specifics of COVID-19 response. It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.”
He closes his argument by suggesting that 21st century capitalism at large has placed too high a priority on profits, at the expense of people:
“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.”