Amazon employees with courage

You have to give a lot of credit to Tim Bray, an Amazon vice-president who quit over the company’s treatment of workers. He was making a big sacrifice to expose Amazon’s corruption.

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.

He makes a point of mentioning the names of the fired activists:

The victims weren’t abstract entities but real people; 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?

Even if it wasn’t intentional bigotry, it’s still no coincidence that Amazon is hiring the underprivileged and desperate to do tedious labor in their warehouses.

He even provides a solution…a solution that has to be enforced outside of the Amazon executive boardroom.

Amazon is exceptionally well-managed and has demonstrated great skill at spotting opportunities and building repeatable processes for exploiting them. It has a corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power. If we don’t like certain things Amazon is doing, we need to put legal guardrails in place to stop those things. We don’t need to invent anything new; a combination of antitrust and living-wage and worker-empowerment legislation, rigorously enforced, offers a clear path forward.

As long as Republicans and conservative Democrats hold power, though, no one is going to have the political will to make Jeff Bezos do the right thing.


  1. says

    Good for him, but in those five years he didn’t hear the stories about fulfillment workers peeing in bottles because their quotas are so ridiculously high they can’t afford risking a bathroom break?

  2. komarov says

    “[…] working with awfully good people.”

    … and at least some awful exceptions, it seems. I’ll second Tabby Lavalamp: Taking a principled is good, but in five years I couldn’t help hearing about some of the darker sides of Amazon, and I neither work there nor paid particular attention to them. Long-term high-ups were no doubt better informed.

  3. blf says

    (This is a synopsis from memory.) Here in France, amazon is being challenged by the unions over their practices; now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, amazon has been ordered by the courts to provide only “essential” services / goods due to a general lack of protection for their workers; amazon appealed and was told to go feck themselves; amazon then shut down claiming 1. ambiguity about “essential” and 2. the 100K€ fine per infraction could cause them to loose money; then tried to get the workers paid by the French state under the Covid-19 economic support scheme; and has now been told to go feck themselves again, harder. What amazon has not done is spend a cent of its own money, despite racking up considerable transactions (sales) and corresponding profits (on which they pay minimal taxes).

  4. chrislawson says

    I don’t think he’s claiming Amazon was ideal all those five years, but that his personal breaking point was Amazon firing workers for trying to keep their colleagues and families safe from COVID19. Yes it should have happened long before this…but at least he’s shown he has a limit to what he will accept while the techbro culture he stepped away from continues to celebrate being utter sociopaths.

  5. unclefrogy says

    that is one of the only “good news” I heard yesterday, along with some other demonstrations by labor that offer some small ray of hope that things might actually change for the better.
    I hope I’m not clutching at straws while drowning.
    uncle frogy

  6. oddie says

    I cancelled my prime a year ago when Amazon was having labor issues Seems it hasn’t gotten better.

  7. Ian R says

    The irony here is that Trump could indulge his hatred of Bezos and actually look good politically by mandating actual enforcement of anti-trust laws, but such an idea is so antithetical to him that he’ll never do it.

  8. Ridana says

    We still have anti-trust laws? Are those like those laws against shooting buffalo from the second floor of a hotel or eating fried chicken with a fork?