Drawing protesting treatment of Amazon workers

Amazon VP quits over treatment of warehouse workers

Image credit: SHUTDOWNDC/via REUTERS

Tim Bray, an Amazon vice president and senior engineer for Amazon Web Services (AWS), has quit his job and posted a boldly-worded blog post explaining his dissatisfaction with the company’s treatment of its warehouse workers.

Amazon has long been criticised over allegations of inhumane working conditions at its warehouses. Reports allege “sweatshop conditions” in its warehouses, with incidents including employees losing consciousness due to heat.

These criticisms have mounted during the coronavirus pandemic, in which a walkout protest to demand that a warehouse in New York City with confirmed Covid-19 cases was temporarily closed for the safety of workers was met with Amazon firing the main organiser, Chris Smalls. Reports have emerged stating that some workers are not being provided with PPE, have been kept in the dark about whether their colleagues have tested positive for Covid-19, and that Amazon planned to publicly smear Smalls. Further protests led to the firing of another organiser – one day after an Amazon warehouse worker died of complications due to Covid-19 seemingly contracted at work – and two employees who expressed public support for the protests.

Criticism of Amazon has intensified amid the pandemic; 14 state Attorneys General have criticised Amazon over its treatment of workers, with New York Attorney General Letitia James warning Amazon that it may have violated the law in firing Smalls and calling for an investigation by the National Labor Relations Board.

Bray is the most high-profile figure connected with Amazon to publicly criticise the mega corporation for its treatment of protesting workers. Bray worked at Amazon for six years on what was reportedly a seven-figure salary, following four years at Google. He resigned on 1 May.

In a blog post, Bray explained that his serious concerns about the company started in September 2019 when reports emerged that Amazon was considering firing employees (Amazon Employees for Climate Justice) who had protested about its failure to address climate-related issues.

Bray said that remaining a VP at Amazon would mean “signing off on actions [he] despised” – as he had failed to have his arguments heard by raising them through conventional channels – and that he could no longer remain with the company.

“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 colour, a woman, or both. Right?”

Bray lambasted Amazon’s response to worker protests as “chickenshit” and said that it is aiming to create a “climate of fear”. He said that while he had a great experience working in a senior position at AWS, there is a severe and growing power imbalance at the company.This is not about the Covid-19 response but a structural problem, he wrote.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about power balances,” he wrote in the blog post. “The warehouse workers are weak and getting weaker, what with mass unemployment and (in the US) job-linked health insurance. So they’re gonna get treated like crap, because capitalism. Any plausible solution has to start with increasing their collective strength.”

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