Business

Canadian Tim Bray quits as VP of Amazon Web Services, cites firing of activist employees

The Canadian vice-president of Amazon Web Services has quit, citing the company's firing of employees he said voiced concerns over work conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

'Remaining an Amazon VP would have meant ... signing off on actions I despised'

The Canadian vice-president of Amazon Web Services has quit, citing the company's firing of employees he said voiced concerns over work conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

The Canadian vice-president of Amazon Web Services has quit, citing the company's firing of employees he said voiced concerns over work conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of COVID-19," said Vancouver-based Tim Bray in a blog post on Monday.

He denounced the firings and said the company's actions were "evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture."

In the blog, Bray said Amazon warehouse employees concerned about work conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic had reached out to Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), an employee group that calls for greater climate action at the company.

Bray wrote the AECJ responded by "internally promoting a petition and organizing a video call for Thursday, April 16, featuring warehouse workers from around the world, with guest activist Naomi Klein."

"Management could have objected to the event, or demanded that outsiders be excluded, or that leadership be represented, or any number of other things; there was plenty of time," wrote Bray.

Workers at an Amazon facility protest conditions in the company's warehouse in New York City on March 30. (Bebeto Matthews/The Associated Press)

Instead, Bray said the company fired Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, tech workers he said were "visible" AECJ leaders.

"It was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing," he wrote.

Speaking to CBC News, Cunningham said she was fired after years of advocating for change at Amazon.

"I can't go to a funeral or a wedding, and yet Amazon is putting people at risk by selling non-essential items like Ping-Pong balls and rubber chickens, and that doesn't make any sense," she said.

An Amazon spokesperson said that Cunningham and Costa were not fired for activism but for "repeatedly violating internal policies." They did not specify which policies. 

For Bray's part, he wrote that quitting cost him more than $1 million in "big-tech salaries and share vestings," but notes that he does not regret it.

"Remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised," Bray wrote. "So I resigned."

An Amazon warehouse in Alberta has been tied to an outbreak of COVID-19, with five confirmed cases among workers as of last Friday at the facility in Balzac north of Calgary.

Amazon said last week it has spent more than $800 million on COVID-19 safety measures, including masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and installing hand-washing stations at warehouses.

With files from CBC's Yvette Brend and The Canadian Press

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