This is a must-see:
And this is a must-read:
May 1st was my last day as a VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services, after five years and five months of rewarding fun. I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.
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.
What, great pay and perks under capitalism weren’t enough?
Last year, Amazonians on the tech side banded together as Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), first coming to the world’s notice with an open letter promoting a shareholders’ resolution calling for dramatic action and leadership from Amazon on the global climate emergency. I was one of its 8,702 signatories.
While the resolution got a lot of votes, it didn’t pass. Four months later, 3,000 Amazon tech workers from around the world joined in the Global Climate Strike walkout. The day before the walkout, Amazon announced a large-scale plan aimed at making the company part of the climate-crisis solution. It’s not as though the activists were acknowledged by their employer for being forward-thinking; in fact, leaders were threatened with dismissal.
Fast-forward to the Covid-19 era. Stories surfaced of unrest in Amazon warehouses, workers raising alarms about being uninformed, unprotected, and frightened. Official statements claimed every possible safety precaution was being taken. Then a worker organizing for better safety conditions was fired, and brutally insensitive remarks appeared in leaked executive meeting notes where the focus was on defending Amazon “talking points”.
For those unfamiliar with said talking points, here you go:
Leaked notes from an internal meeting of Amazon leadership obtained by VICE News reveal company executives discussed a plan to smear fired warehouse employee Christian Smalls, calling him “not smart or articulate” as part of a PR strategy to make him “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”
“He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers,” wrote Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky in notes from the meeting forwarded widely in the company.
The discussion took place at a daily meeting, which included CEO Jeff Bezos, to update each other on the coronavirus situation. Amazon SVP of Global Corporate Affairs Jay Carney described the purpose to CNN on Sunday: “We go over the update on what’s happening around the world with our employees and with our customers and our businesses. We also spend a significant amount of time just brainstorming about what else we can do” about COVID-19.
Zapolsky’s notes also detailed Amazon’s efforts to buy millions of protective masks to protect its workers from the coronavirus, as well as an effort to begin producing and selling its own masks. So far, the company has secured at least 10 million masks for “our operations guys,” with 25 million more coming from a supplier in the next two weeks, Zapolsky wrote.
Sounds like they were doing something, right?
Uh, not quite.
Amazon fired the warehouse worker Smalls on Monday [March 30], after he led a walkout of a number of employees at a Staten Island distribution warehouse. Amazon says he was fired for violating a company-imposed 14-day quarantine after he came into contact with an employee who tested positive for the coronavirus.
Smalls says the employee who tested positive came into contact with many other workers for longer periods of time before her test came back. He claims he was singled out after pleading with management to sanitize the warehouse and be more transparent about the number of workers who were sick.
Zapolsky’s notes from the meeting detail Amazon’s plan to deal with a wave of bad press and calls for investigations from elected officials following the firing of Smalls. They also show top Amazon brass wanted to make Smalls the focus of its narrative when questioned about worker safety.
“We should spend the first part of our response strongly laying out the case for why the organizer’s conduct was immoral, unacceptable, and arguably illegal, in detail, and only then follow with our usual talking points about worker safety,” Zapolsky wrote. “Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”
So, it sounds like the real “something” they were doing wasn’t improving working conditions, as the workers were calling for — it was shooting (and smearing) the messenger. And, oh yeah: discrediting the movement he organized with. Amazon employees at the JFK8 warehouse have been struggling to unionize since 2018.
And most sickeningly of all, making lame excuses (and using the workers’ health as a cudgel against their own representative):
In a statement to VICE News, Zapolsky said his “comments were personal and emotional.”
“I was frustrated and upset that an Amazon employee would endanger the health and safety of other Amazonians by repeatedly returning to the premises after having been warned to quarantine himself after exposure to virus Covid-19,” he said. “I let my emotions draft my words and get the better of me.”
And here’s a part that’s truly despicable:
Amazon also weighed ways to generate a PR win from their mask stockpile with “different and bold” ways of giving away surplus masks to hospitals and independent grocers. “If we can get masks in quantity it’s a fantastic gift if we donate strategically,” Zapolsky wrote.
“Another idea for giving masks away — give 1,000 masks to every police station in the country,” Zapolsky wrote, adding this “reminds folks it’s not just medical workers who need these.”
Yeah, that’s right: Instead of listening to workers’ concerns and taking their recommendations to heart, Amazon was all top-down…and using stockpiled masks as part of a downright shameless PR initiative.
No wonder Tim Bray quit.