Connect with us

Pandemic Nation

A Veep Quits Amazon. Will it Matter?

The firings of company whistleblowers, Tim Bray wrote, were further evidence “of a vein of toxicity running through the company’s culture.”

Avatar

Published

 

on

Amazon workers at Staten Island warehouse strike over coronavirus protection. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

If a high-ranking official at a top U.S. firm resigns to protest whistleblowers being fired for raising COVID-19 workplace concerns, does it leave a mark? One of the Big Four tech companies is about to find out.

In a remarkable blog post, Tim Bray, a vice president and “distinguished engineer” at Amazon’s AWS division, called the company “chickenshit” for firing activists who were helping to organize a video call featuring concerned workers at Amazon warehouses around the world. (He later deleted the word, along with several other adjectives that he originally had suggested could be used to describe the company’s actions.)

The firings, Bray wrote, were further evidence “of a vein of toxicity running through the company’s culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.” He said that remaining as an Amazon vice president “would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.”

Listen to the “Pandemic Nation” Podcast

 
As Vox points out, Bray held one of the top executive titles at Amazon, as VP is exceeded only by senior vice president and CEO. Bray said his tenure was just short of 5½ years and that he was walking away from a seven-figure position.

It is not the executive’s first foray into activism. Last year, Bray was the only Amazon vice president among more than 8,700 employees who signed a letter asking CEO Jeff Bezos and the board of directors to adopt new policies aimed at reducing the company’s impact on the environment.
 


Bray said he could not abide Amazon firing people it considered to be troublemakers.

 


This time, his concern was squarely for workers at Amazon warehouses, where dozens of cases of coronavirus have been confirmed and employees have repeatedly said the company isn’t doing enough to protect them. Although Bray said he has been told by people he trusts that Amazon is working diligently to improve workplace safety, he could not abide the company firing people it considered to be troublemakers.
 


Each week Pandemic Nation offers a roundup and analysis of news about the coronavirus. Please send feedback and related tips and announcements to mark@markkreidler.com


 

Those included Christian Smalls and Bashir Mohamed, who helped organize protests of the working conditions at Amazon warehouses, and – most recently – at least two longtime corporate employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who have criticized the company’s treatment of warehouse workers and were helping to set up the global video call. All were fired. Amazon officials have said the firings were for violations of company policy, not for activism.

Amazon recently ended a program that allowed workers fearful of contracting the virus to take unlimited unpaid time off. Last week, Amazon workers joined those from FedEx, Instacart, Target and Whole Foods (owned by Amazon) in a strike to protest their working conditions.

Whether Bray’s high-profile resignation will have any impact on the corporate giant is a fair question. For his part, Bray said he went up the chain of command with his concerns before taking the situation public.

“Amazon is exceptionally well-managed and has demonstrated great skill at spotting opportunities and building repeatable processes for exploiting them,” the now-former VP wrote. “It has a corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power.”

Amazon’s workers are not represented by a union.

  *   *   *


Economic Policy Institute: Nearly 28 million workers have applied for unemployment compensation.


 
California’s aggressive stay-at-home restrictions in the wake of COVID-19’s first wave likely averted nearly 90,000 additional cases of the disease and 1,500 deaths, according to a new report by independent researchers.

The project focused on California because it was first to go statewide with its orders.

“Early and strong action, and in particular early and strong action in densely populated places, is going to get the largest return in terms of slowing the virus,” Andrew Friedson, one of the study’s authors, told Capital & Main in an email exchange.

“This isn’t just conjecture,” added Friedson, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Colorado, Denver. “We released a second study looking at shelter-in-place in the entire country, which backs this up.”

The estimated numbers of cases and deaths avoided were for the first five weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shelter-at-home order was enacted. The study’s authors added that their “back of the envelope calculations” suggested that California’s restrictions on businesses and places of employment generated eight to 14 job losses per coronavirus case averted, and 400 to 917 job losses per life saved.

“There’s a tradeoff to be made in terms of job losses,” Friedson said. “Nothing is free.”
 


More than half of the Terminal Island federal prison population had tested positive for the coronavirus by last week.


 

*   *   *

Chilling numbers from the Economic Policy Institute shine a light on a problem exploding onto the scene amid U.S. job losses: millions more patients are joining the ranks of the medically uninsured.

According to the EPI, 12.7 million of the people who have lost their jobs since early March likely have also lost their employer-paid health insurance. The institute has estimated that more than 30 million people in total have been laid off or furloughed in the past six weeks due to the coronavirus.

“It is especially terrifying for workers to lose their health insurance as a result of, and during, an ongoing pandemic,” wrote EPI research director Josh Bivens and economist Ben Zipperer.

The institute reported that in the last six weeks, nearly 28 million workers have applied for unemployment compensation. But that number, the EPI said, could be as high as 38 million if everyone who tried to file a claim had been able to get through overloaded state unemployment insurance systems to do so.

*   *   *

Although many local and state officials have moved to ease crowded conditions, jails and prisons continue to function as incubators of the COVID-19 disease. A story from Los Angeles brings that notion home with powerful clarity.

At the Terminal Island federal prison in San Pedro, more than half the population had tested positive for the coronavirus by last week – 570 of 1,055 inmates. The total was said to be the highest rate of infection at a federal facility in the nation.

The Associated Press reported that federal officials were stressing that infection and death rates inside prisons were lower than those on the outside. But out of 2,700 tests conducted in the federal prison system, 2,000 had come back positive, according to the Bureau of Prisons. That’s a staggering infection rate of 70 percent, and that’s only for the known testing that has occurred.

By definition, Terminal Island is a high-risk facility for infection because it specializes in housing inmates who need long-term medical or mental health care. But families of those incarcerated say they’ve had trouble getting information, and the prison has come under heavy criticism for its response to the threat of the virus.

“It is clear they are not making sure these inmates are protected,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.), whose district includes San Pedro and who is pushing for a meeting with the prison warden. “Being incarcerated at Terminal Island should not be a death sentence.”


Copyright 2020 Capital & Main

Top Stories