While Amazon warehouse employees were striking on May Day, a top engineer at Amazon Web Services (AWS) "quit in dismay" over the company's "firing of whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19."
In a blog post titled "Bye, Amazon," Tim Bray, a distinguished engineer at AWS, detailed how employees who signed a petition demanding virus-related workplace protections were fired. He claims several people were "fired on the spot" in early April after sending out an email announcing a video call had been set up to discuss workplace safety during the pandemic.
Friday was my last day at Amazon: https://t.co/kXYDPdNbs7— Tim Bray (@timbray) May 4, 2020
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"The justifications were laughable; it was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing," Bray said in the blog post.
He spent more than five years at Amazon, following positions at Google and Sun, but in the past, he's called Amazon "the best job I've ever had." However, the breaking point for Bray was when several employees were fired, including Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who both criticized the company's treatment of employees during the COVID-19 crisis. Amazon said both employees were fired for "repeatedly violating internal policies."
Before Bray left his million-dollar per year job, he voiced his frustration through official channels before resigning last Friday.
"That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned," he wrote. 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. I'm sure it's a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both. Right?"
We noted Chris Smalls back in late March. He was a warehouse employee at an Amazon Staten Island facility, who was fired after he started a strike to force better safety checks after colleagues contracted the virus.
According to Mediaite, Bray added some phrases that described the firings of the whistleblowers:
“Kill the messenger.”
“Never heard of the Streisand effect.”
“Designed to create a climate of fear.”
“Like painting a sign on your forehead saying ‘Either guilty, or has something to hide.’”
A leaked memo obtained by Vice News revealed how an Amazon executive referred to Smalls as "not smart or articulate" during a meeting with Jeff Bezos.
Amazon made $33 million per hour during the first quarter as consumers panic hoarded products while warehouse employees worked in unsafe spaces as some contracted the virus.
"And at the end of the day, 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. Only that's not just Amazon, it's how 21st-century capitalism is done," Bray concluded.