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“Chickens**t” whistleblower firings are “poison,” resigning Amazon VP says

enough —

Firings highlight “toxicity running through the company culture,” Bray said.

Kate Cox

Amazon's orange-yellow logo wall.

Enlarge / Amazon’s orange-yellow logo wall.

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Amazon VP Tim Bray, who had been with the company for more than five years, has resigned in protest of Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers and the firing of other employees who spoke out.

The company fired multiple warehouse and office workers in recent weeks amid organizing efforts to improve conditions in the company’s distribution centers, where individuals have contracted COVID-19. Firing the whistleblowers is “evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture,” Bray said in a blog post explaining his departure. “I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.”

Bray was one of several thousand Amazon tech workers who joined together in 2019 as Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, he said. Warehouse workers this year reached out to that group for support, as it was already organized. Members of AECJ then put their heft behind the warehouse workers’ push, organizing a large video conference for Thursday, April 16, as part of those efforts.

Two prominent leaders of that group, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, were fired the next day, following several other warehouse workers who were let go after advocating for better working conditions. “The victims weren’t abstract entities but real people,” Bray said. “Here are some of their names: Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls. I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both. Right?”

“At that point I snapped,” Bray wrote. “VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book.” But after doing that, Bray said, keeping his job “would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.”

He added:

Here are some descriptive phrases you might use to describe the activist-firing.

  1. “Chickenshit.”
  2. “Kill the messenger.”
  3. “Never heard of the Streisand effect.”
  4. “Designed to create a climate of fear.”
  5. “Like painting a sign on your forehead saying ‘Either guilty, or has something to hide.’”

Which do you like?

Bray ended his post with an exhortation for Amazon to do better. “Amazon’s messaging has been urgent that they are prioritizing this issue and putting massive efforts into warehouse safety. I actually believe this: I have heard detailed descriptions from people I trust of the intense work and huge investments,” he said. “Good for them; and let’s grant that you don’t turn a supertanker on a dime.”

But the company still has a long way to go, according to Bray. “I believe the worker testimony too. And at the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of Covid-19 response,” he added. “It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.” Only strong regulation, actively enforced, will change that, Bray said.

Bray was a VP and distinguished engineer for Amazon Web Services since 2014. He has an extensive software engineering career going back to the early 1980s, including stretches at both Sun Microsystems and Google in the past 15 years. He is most noted for being one of the original co-authors of the XML standard.

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