A Canadian senior Amazon.com Inc. executive said Monday that he quit over the company’s treatment of employees who have complained about safety in its warehouses, a widely publicized departure that has escalated tensions within the e-commerce giant as it scrambles to meet surging demand for online goods during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tim Bray, a technologist who worked out of Amazon’s Vancouver offices, wrote in a post on his personal blog that he “quit in dismay” on Friday after the company fired several employees who had demanded greater protection for warehouse workers.
“Amazon is exceptionally well-managed and has demonstrated great skill at spotting opportunities and building repeatable processes for exploiting them,” Mr. Bray wrote. “It has a corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power.
Mr. Bray, a vice-president who also held the title distinguished engineer at Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing arm, said the resignation would cost him “over a million (pre-tax) dollars, not to mention the best job I’ve ever had.”
The company declined to comment on his departure. But in a post on its official blog on Monday, it outlined an extensive list of safety measures it has taken during the pandemic.
Amazon has been rocked by a widening backlash after it fired several employees last month who protested what they said was a lack of proper protective gear and insufficient sick pay and other benefits for hourly workers at Amazon’s huge fulfilment centres.
The online retailer has seen COVID-19 outbreaks at dozens of warehouses as it has rushed to meet a surge in online orders amid the pandemic. Last month, the company confirmed its first COVID-19 death – a manager of a Southern California warehouse, in March.
Amazon employees in several cities walked off the job last Friday as part of a “sick-out” by workers at several U.S. retailers and delivery companies to protest low pay and unsafe conditions.
Complaints by Amazon employees have drawn scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers, with dozens of state Attorneys-General urging Amazon to boost sick pay. New York’s Attorney-General warned Amazon that it may have broken the state’s whistle-blower laws by firing the employees.
Mr. Bray, a co-inventor of extensible markup language (XML), which is used widely on the internet, wrote in his blog that he “snapped” after Amazon fired employees who had organized a virtual town hall last month with Canadian activist Naomi Klein to discuss conditions at its warehouses.
Ms. Klein applauded Mr. Bray’s resignation on Monday. “This kind of courage is what we need right now, in every workplace and walk of life,” she wrote on Twitter.
Some of the fired Amazon employees had previously been involved in efforts to press Amazon to boost its commitment to tackling climate change, Mr. Bray wrote. He was among more than 150 people arrested in Vancouver in 2018 for protesting against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Amazon has said it has improved safety measures for employees working through the pandemic, including boosting pay for Canadian warehouse workers by $2 an hour and adding two weeks paid sick leave for those who have tested positive or have been asked to self-quarantine. The company also said it expects to spend US$800-million in the first half of the year on face masks, hand sanitizer, thermometers and other protective measures for warehouse employees.
“Our top concern is ensuring the health and safety of our employees,” Amazon said in a statement on its website on Monday.
Amazon reported last week that online sales rose 26 per cent to more than US$75-billion in the first quarter compared to the same period last year, but profits plunged nearly 30 per cent as the company poured more money into protective gear for workers. Chief executive Jeff Bezos warned that the company would likely spend its entire expected US$4-billion operating profit in the second quarter on employee safety and improving its operations to meet increased demand.
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