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Amazon VP resigns after firings of activist workers



Tim Bray, a vice president and senior engineer at Amazon Web Services, has resigned over the firings of activist workers at the online retail giant.

“Remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised,” Bray wrote in a blog post.

“So I resigned.”

Amazon has fired several employees that have protested the workplace conditions at warehouses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bray wrote that the “victims weren’t abstract entities but real people; here are some of their names: Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls.”

Smalls’s was the first high-profile dismissal during the pandemic. He was fired after organizing a walkout at a Staten Island, N.Y., facility where a worker had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Costa and Cunningham, members of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group that protested the company’s climate policies, were fired in early April after criticizing warehouse conditions on Twitter.

Mohammed was fired the same weekend as the two tech designers after organizing workers at a Minnesota warehouse for more rigorous cleaning and safety.

“I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both,” Bray wrote. “Right?”

Amazon has defended the firings, alleging that the workers broke internal policies while emphasizing support for employees that speak out.

Bray, the highest-level Amazon employee to speak out about the issue so far, wrote that the firings are part of a company-wide devaluation of warehouse workers.

“Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets,” he wrote. “It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.”

Bray said that he initially tried to raise concerns about the firings internally.

“VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book,” Bray wrote, adding that he ultimately concluded that he could not stay on without functionally endorsing the dismissals.

Amazon has taken several steps to address concerns raised by workers during the pandemic.

It has pledged to increase cleaning and enforce social distancing measures at warehouses while raising wages for hourly workers by $2 per hour and boosting overtime pay.

Bray applauded those steps, but said that the issues with treatment of workers run deeper.

“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 wrote.

“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 added.

Amazon declined to comment on Bray’s resignation.

Updated at 12:25 p.m.



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