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Amazon VP Quits Over Treatment of Workers

'I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 4, 2020 6:15 PM CDT

(Newser) – An Amazon vice president says he is quitting in solidarity with worried warehouse workers fired for seeking improved safety measures during the pandemic. In a blog post, Tim Bray described the company's actions as "chickenshit" and "designed to create a climate of fear." Bray, a prominent software engineer who had been at Amazon for more than five years, says he "snapped" after the company's April 16 firing of two workers who started a petition and organized a virtual event for employees to discuss their concerns. "VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book," he says. "That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned." More:

  • A "vein of toxicity." Bray says Amazon is excellent at spotting business opportunities, but has a " corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power." The firings, he says, are " evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison."

  • Personal consequences. Bray, whose last day at the company was May 1, says the decision will cost him a lot, Business Insider reports. "What with big-tech salaries and share vestings, this will probably cost me over a million (pre-tax) dollars, not to mention the best job I've ever had, working with awfully good people. So I'm pretty blue."
  • A history of speaking out. Motherboard notes that Bray is the highest-level Amazon employee to have condemned the company's treatment of workers—and last year, he was the highest-level staff member to sign an open letter calling for climate action at the company.
  • He says he didn't expect attention. Bray tells the New York Times that he didn't think the blog post would get so much attention and that he didn't write it with a specific goal in mind. "I’m a blogger and I share the story of my life when I think it might interest or help others," he says.
  • Amazon's work on warehouse safety. Bray says he believes that Amazon is now working hard on improving safety, and he's aware you "don’t turn a supertanker on a dime." But "at the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of COVID-19 response,” he says. “It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential. Only that’s not just Amazon, it’s how 21st-century capitalism is done."
  • No comment from Amazon. Amazon declined to comment on Bray's blog post but "said the other workers weren't fired for whistleblowing but rather for violating company policies," reports the Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos.
(Read more Amazon stories.)

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