Amazon is trying to establish itself as the most essential business during the coronavirus outbreak. But the tech giant is struggling to control internal turmoil, both in its warehouses, where workers say they are not being adequately protected from COVID-19, and in its corporate offices, where there is a clash between tech employees and management on the company's climate policies reached a tipping point last week.
Last Friday afternoon, Amazon fired two of its tech employees after they publicly criticized its coronavirus policies. Those employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, both user experience designers with 21 years of company service between them, were among the leaders of a group of internal workers formed in December 2018 with the goal of lobbying the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, to commit to more ambitious climate goals. The group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), recently expanded its focus to embrace the struggles of front-line Amazon employees in distribution centers across the country.
Cunningham and Costa were fired after writing tweets criticizing the company for putting workers and the public at risk and offering to match up to $ 500 in donations to a fund for Amazon warehouse workers exposed to COVID-19.
In addition to firing Cunningham and Costa, AECJ says the company removed an invitation to a virtual event the worker group had sent to Amazon employees to allow them to “hear directly from Amazon warehouse workers as they speak honestly about the issues. real they are facing ”.
The goal of the AECJ webcast, which was to introduce author and climate justice activist Naomi Klein, was to explore questions such as: “How are Covid-19, the climate crisis and the struggles of climate workers connected? warehouse? How are all these problems linked to racism and inequity? "More than 1,000 employees had confirmed their attendance at the event before he pulled out, AECJ said in a press release, adding that the company had also deleted internal emails about the event.
"Why is Amazon so afraid of workers talking to each other? No company should punish its employees for showing concern for one another, especially during a pandemic! Costa said in a statement. She and Cunningham say they still plan to host the virtual event with a new RSVP link.
In a statement to the Washington Post, Amazon spokesperson Drew Herderner said: “We support the right of every employee to criticize their employer's working conditions, but that does not come with a blanket immunity against each and every policy. internal ”.
AECJ has been publicly lobbying Jeff Bezos to reduce the company's contributions to climate change for more than a year. In the summer of 2019, the group asked the company's shareholders to adopt a resolution on climate change that was ultimately endorsed by more than 8,700 Amazon workers. It was rejected, but a few months later, Bezos unveiled a climate plan that targeted net zero carbon emissions by 2040, a decade before the deadline set in the Paris climate agreement. AECJ argued that the plan was not comprehensive enough, and on September 20, in solidarity with the youth climate strikes that occurred around the world, thousands of Amazon employees left the company's headquarters in downtown Seattle.
Around the same time, the company updated its communication policies to require employees to seek management approval before speaking publicly about Amazon. In October, when two of its employees, Costa and Jamie Kowalski, publicly criticized one of the company's climate policies, telling the Washington Post it “distracts from the fact that Amazon wants to make a profit on businesses that directly contribute to the climate catastrophe. ”. Employees were warned that speaking again would result in "formal corrective action."
In response, 400 Amazon employees risked their jobs to speak publicly about the company's climate policies. "We decided that we could not live with ourselves if we let a policy silence us in the face of a problem of moral gravity such as the climate crisis," the group said in a tweet in January that has since been removed.
It took a few months, but the company finally made good on its threat. However, it doesn't appear that the laid-off employees will stop talking anytime soon.