An Amazon VP’s resignation shows internal unrest is rising to the top

A vice president of Amazon has resigned after firing colleagues who protested working conditions in Amazon’s warehouse network during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tim Bray, an experienced technologist and top engineer in Amazon’s AWS division, called firing activist insiders – including multiple warehouse workers and white-collar workers – “ chicken hit ” and “ designed to create a climate of fear. ”

‘[R]in fact, getting an Amazon vice president would mean opting out of actions I despised, ” he wrote on his blog. “So I quit my job.”

Vice President is one of the top positions at Amazon – only senior Vice President and CEO are higher – so Bray’s decision is remarkable. Technical workers can spend more than a decade at Amazon and never reach the VP level because, unlike in much of the U.S. business, the title means much more than middle management. Executives overseeing all Amazon Prime or all Amazon delivery services also carry the VP title. Usually, this level of management never speaks in public.

But if an Amazon vice president resigned on these issues, insiders might have guessed it would be Bray – he was the only Amazon vice president to sign an open letter last year, along with thousands of junior employees CEO Jeff Bezos asked to make changes related to the company’s climate impact.

In his blog post, Bray says he believes the company is working hard to make warehouses safe for its employees during the crisis: “I’ve heard detailed descriptions of people I trust from the intense work and massive investment. Good for them “- but believes the firing of activist workers” is evidence of a vein of toxicity flowing through corporate culture. ” He added, “I choose not to serve or drink that poison.”

Bray continued:

Amazon is exceptionally well managed and has shown great skill in identifying opportunities and building repeatable processes to exploit them. It has a corresponding lack of view of the human cost of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power. If we don’t like certain things Amazon does, we need to set up legal guardrails to stop those things. We don’t have to invent anything new; A combination of anti-trust and living wages legislation and worker empowerment, which is rigorously enforced, provides a clear way forward.

The United States Congress is currently conducting an antitrust investigation into the Big 4 tech giants, including Amazon, and seven members of the House called on CEO Jeff Bezos to testify last week.

Bray’s resignation marks an escalation of internal unrest at Amazon that has surfaced over the past year, but has really peaked during the pandemic. His resignation comes after Amazon fired at least two warehouse workers, Christian Smalls and Bashir Mohamed, after leading protests against working conditions in warehouses. Amazon also fired two longtime company workers, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa. Cunningham and Costa have spoken out in the past as leaders of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice about the company’s negative impact on the environment, and recently criticized the company for its treatment of warehouse workers. On Friday, some Amazon workers joined those of Instacart and Target in a strike that the companies said did not disrupt their business. But the public symbol of protest emphasized the rare unit for non-union members and received widespread media coverage.

Amazon has said it fired all employees for corporate policy violations and not for their activism, but all employees said they think they are the target to call the company. Internal conflicts have been encouraged to some extent within Amazon, but the company has now publicly drawn a red line about what kind of disagreements it is willing to accept among its ranks. Bray’s resignation comes after a number of the company’s employees were internally outraged by the way the company handled firing Christian Smalls. Some employees told Recode on Monday that the fact that a VP quit might inspire other Amazon employees to do the same.

An Amazon spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.