Amazon Engineering VP Quits, Accuses Company of ‘Chickens–‘ Firing of Whistleblowers

Samson Amore

A top-ranking engineering vice president at Amazon quit today in protest of the e-commerce giant’s treatment of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tim Bray, a former senior principal engineer at Amazon’s Vancouver outpost, quit Monday after Amazon reportedly fired several activists attempting to raise awareness of Amazon’s lackluster pandemic protections.

“Stories surfaced of unrest in Amazon warehouses, workers raising alarms about being uninformed, unprotected, and frightened,” while “official statements claimed every possible safety precaution was being taken,” Bray wrote in a blog post.

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Activists were reportedly trying to set up a video call event for warehouse workers nationwide with guest speaker and author Naomi Klein. A”n announcement sent to internal mailing lists on Friday April 10th was apparently the flashpoint (and) Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two visible AECJ leaders, were fired on the spot that day,” Bray wrote. “The justifications were laughable; it was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing.”

The firing of these two leaders combined with internal reports of unsafe workplace conditions was enough to push Bray over the edge. He quit Monday, foregoing upwards of $1 million.

“What with big-tech salaries and share vestings, this will probably cost me over a million (pre-tax) dollars, not to mention the best job I’ve ever had, working with awfully good people… So I’m pretty blue,” Bray wrote.

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Bray called the firings “chickens—,” and “designed to create a climate of fear.” He also described other top-ranking Amazon executives as “never heard of the Streisand effect” — referring to, of course, the classic concept that the more someone tries to make a situation disappear, the more attention it gets.

“It’s not just workers who are upset,” Bray said, linking to accounts of 14 Attorneys-general speaking out against Amazon and two court cases where Amazon was ordered to suspend deliveries in France amid the pandemic.

Amazon workers are organizing to demand reinstatement of some fired employees, increased employee protection and sanitation efforts, including the company’s public disclosure of reported and tracked COVID-19 cases.

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“Amazon likely hopes that firing Maren and Emily will stop the climate movement and employee pressure at Amazon. They are wrong,” the employee advocacy group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice wrote on its blog.

Read Bray’s full open letter on his resignation from Amazon here.

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