One of Amazon’s most senior engineers has resigned in protest over the firing of staff who raised concerns about warehouse working conditions during the coronavirus outbreak.
Tim Bray, who was a vice president and distinguished engineer at Amazon Web Services (AWS), went public after leaving his role on Friday (1 May), forfeiting an estimated $1m (pre-tax) in shares and salary.
In a blogpost, Bray defended a number of Amazon employees who had sought to highlight the health concerns of staff working in the warehouses of the online retail giant during the pandemic.
“It’s a matter of fact that workers are saying they’re at risk in the warehouses. […] It’s not just workers who are upset. Here are Attorneys-general from 14 states speaking out. Here’s the New York State Attorney-general with more detailed complaints. Here’s Amazon losing in French courts.”
In mid-April, two Amazon user experience workers, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, were fired after they circulated an internal petition shining a spotlight on health concerns about warehouse staff working through the crisis.
An Amazon spokesperson said at the time that Cunningham and Costa, who had spent a total of more than 20 years at the company, had been sacked for “repeatedly violating internal policies”.
On his blog, Bray wrote: “Management could have objected to the event, or demanded that outsiders be excluded, or that leadership be represented, or any number of other things; there was plenty of time. Instead, they just fired the activists.
“At that point I snapped. VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book. I’m not at liberty to disclose those discussions, but I made many of the arguments appearing in this essay. I think I made them to the appropriate people.
“That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.”
Bray added: “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.
“If we don’t like certain things Amazon is doing, we need to put legal guardrails in place to stop those things. We don’t need to invent anything new; a combination of antitrust and living-wage and worker-empowerment legislation, rigorously enforced, offers a clear path forward.”
Cunningham, who had also put pressure on Amazon to improve its climate record before being fire, thanked Bray for his decision.
Says Amazon “firing whistleblowers” is “evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.”
Thank you, Tim.https://t.co/oShy4TQisN
— Emily Cunningham (@emahlee) May 4, 2020
Amazon declined to comment.