Amazon engineer quits after he ‘snapped’ when the company fired workers who called for coronavirus protections

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KEY POINTS
  • Tim Bray, a senior engineer at Amazon, resigned on Friday over concerns about the company’s decision to fire workers who were outspoken critics of its labor practices.
  • In a blog post, Bray said he “snapped” when he learned Amazon fired Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, two former user experience designers who criticized Amazon’s climate stance and treatment of warehouse workers.
  • Amazon has also fired multiple warehouse employees who criticized working conditions at its facilities.
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Tim Bray, a senior Amazon software engineer, has resigned from his role at the company after five years, citing “dismay” over Amazon’s decision to fire outspoken critics of its labor practices.

In a fiery blog post, titled “Bye, Amazon,” Bray, a vice president at Amazon Web Services (AWS), said his last day at the company was Friday. Bray said he “snapped” after Amazon fired Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two former user experience designers who criticized Amazon’s climate stance and, most recently, its treatment of warehouse workers amid the coronavirus. Amazon has said it fired Costa and Cunningham for “repeatedly violating internal policies.”

“I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about employees frightened of Covid-19,” Bray wrote in the blog post, adding that “remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.”

Bray did not respond to a request for comment. Amazon declined to comment on Bray’s resignation.

Before he resigned, Bray had shown support for an employee advocacy group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which Cunningham and Costa were also a part of. He also signed onto an April letter to CEO Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s board of directors, which received more than 8,700 signatures, calling on the company to develop a comprehensive climate change plan.

Cunningham said she commends Bray for “his integrity” and for “doing the right thing” by resigning from his role at AWS. Bray’s resignation could spark similar moves from other corporate Amazon employees who want to see meaningful changes made at the company, Cunningham added.

“I think people in general want to work for companies that they feel proud of,” Cunningham said. “Amazon has an incredible opportunity to lead both in the coronavirus crisis and with the climate, but it has to start by listening to workers instead of firing us.”

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that it supports workers’ rights to protest and criticize their employer’s working conditions, “but that does not come with blanket immunity against bad actions, particularly those that endanger the health, well-being or safety of their colleagues.”

In addition to Costa and Cunningham, Amazon has fired multiple warehouse employees who criticized the working conditions at its facilities during the pandemic. The company continues to face widespread criticism over its decision last month to fire Chris Smalls, a warehouse worker who organized a strike at its Staten Island, New York, facility. Smalls said he was fired for organizing the strike, but Amazon said it dismissed Smalls because he violated social distancing rules while he was supposed to be under quarantine after being exposed to a co-worker who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Amazon warehouse workers across the country have called for the company to put in place greater safety protections, including closing down facilities where there are positive cases for additional cleaning. Warehouse workers have staged protests at facilities in Detroit, Illinois and Staten Island, and they participated in nationwide strikes held last week.

The workers’ calls have recently sparked a response from growing numbers of corporate Amazon employees. Earlier this month, Amazon employees participated in a “sick out” to show support for Costa and Cunningham, as well as warehouse workers. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice estimates that “well over 500 tech workers” participated in the sick out, the group previously told CNBC.

Amazon has previously said it has gone to “great lengths” to keep facilities clean and make sure employees are following necessary precautions, such as washing their hands, using hand sanitizer and practicing social distancing. It has also started taking employees’ temperatures when they report to work and has supplied them with face masks. In the company’s latest earnings report, Amazon said it would invest its expected $4 billion second-quarter profit in coronavirus-related efforts, such as purchasing additional safety gear for workers and building out its coronavirus testing capabilities, among other things.

Bray said he believes Amazon’s messaging around its efforts to keep workers safe, saying he has “heard detailed descriptions from people I trust of the intense work and huge investments.” However, he said he also believes the repeated outcries from warehouse workers, adding that the criticism of the conditions extends beyond its response to the coronavirus crisis.

“At the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of the Covid-19 response,” Bray said. “It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.”

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