Vice - May 4, 2020
Tim Bray, a well known senior engineer and Vice President at Amazon has “quit in dismay” because Amazon has been “firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.” In an open letter on his website, Bray, who has worked at the company for nearly six years, called the company “chickenshit” for firing and disparaging employees who have organized protests. He also said the firings are "designed to create a climate of fear."
Amazon’s strategy throughout the coronavirus crisis has been to fire dissenters and disparage them both in the press and behind closed doors. There have been dozens of confirmed coronavirus cases at warehouses around the country, and workers have repeatedly said the company isn’t doing enough to protect them. Last week, Amazon ended a program that allowed workers to take unlimited unpaid time off if they fear getting sick from the coronavirus. Last Friday, Amazon workers together with Target, FedEx, Instacart, and Whole Foods workers, went on strike to protest their working conditions.
In statements to Motherboard, Amazon has said its own protesting workers are “spreading misinformation and making false claims about Amazon,” and that it “objects to the irresponsible actions of labor groups.” Last month, Amazon fired Chris Smalls, an Amazon worker in New York City. In a meeting, Amazon executives said that they believe Smalls is not “smart or articulate,” and that publicly they would focus on “laying out the case for why the organizer’s conduct was immoral, unacceptable, and arguably illegal,” according to leaked notes from that meeting obtained by VICE News.
In his resignation letter, Bray said that “firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.”
Bray is the highest-level (now former) Amazon employee to speak out about the company’s workplace culture and treatment of its workers. He has been well-known in the software engineering world for decades.
Last year, he was the highest-ranking employee to sign an open letter promoting a shareholders’ resolution calling for climate action at the company, which continues to work with fossil fuel companies. A total of 8,702 employees signed that letter. Bray has previously been arrested for protesting the Trans-Mountain Pipeline in Canada.
After Amazon fired two employees who helped organize a climate walkout around the time of that letter, Bray said he “snapped.”
“VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book,” he wrote. He said that he decided to quit in solidarity with those who have been fired. “Remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on the actions I despised. So I resigned.”
“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,” he added.
Amazon declined to comment on Bray's letter.
Update:This post has been updated to note that Amazon declined to comment on Bray's letter.