Federal Lawmakers Press Bezos on Amazon’s Firing of Employee Activists as Antitrust Probe Looms

Monica Nickelsburg, GeekWire
Monica Nickelsburg is GeekWire’s Civic Editor, covering technology-driven solutions to urban challenges and the intersection of tech and politics. Before joining GeekWire, she worked for The Week, Forbes, and NBC. Monica holds a BA in journalism and history from New York University. Follow her @mnickelsburg and read her stories on GeekWire.
Federal Lawmakers Press Bezos on Amazon’s Firing of Employee Activists as Antitrust Probe Looms

Nine Senate Democrats asked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to explain the rationale for firing four employees who spoke out about the company's workplace safety policies in a letter sent to the executive Wednesday.

The lawmakers added their voices to a chorus of criticism over Amazon's response to the coronavirus crisis and decision to fire the employee activists.


What's new: Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and several of their colleagues asked Bezos to explain Amazon's policies for employee discipline and termination "to understand how the termination of employees that raised concerns about health and safety conditions did not constitute retaliation for whistleblowing" by May 20. "Given the clear public history of these four workers' advocacy on behalf of health and safety conditions for workers in Amazon warehouses preceding their terminations, and Amazon's vague public statements regarding violations of 'internal policies,' we are seeking additional information to understand exactly what those internal policies are," the letter says.

Background: Last month, Amazon fired user experience designers Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, outspoken leaders of the activist group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. They spent more than a year pressuring their employer to enact stronger sustainability policies before turning their attention to the COVID-19 outbreaks at Amazon fulfillment centers. Two warehouse workers who called for broader safety measures were also terminated last month. An influential Amazon engineer and VP resigned from the company last week in response to the firings.

Amazon's side: "These individuals were not terminated for talking publicly about working conditions or safety, but rather, for violating — often repeatedly — policies, such as intimidation, physical distancing and more," an Amazon spokesperson told GeekWire. "We support every employees' right to criticize or protest their employer's working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies. We look forward to explaining in more detail in our response to the Senators' letter."

In context: Federal lawmakers aren't just scrutinizing Amazon for its labor practices. The House subcommittee on antitrust sent a separate letter to Bezos earlier this month asking him to testify before Congress. They want Bezos to explain apparent inconsistencies between the testimony of one of his deputies last year and recent news reports that indicate Amazon uses third-party seller data to compete with those vendors in its marketplace. Rep. David Cicilline suggested Thursday that Bezos is reluctant to testify in a live-streamed interview with Politico.

Big picture: Amazon is waging war against the pandemic on two fronts. Seemingly overnight, Amazon became a lifeline for thousands of people sheltering at home around the world. Demand for Amazon products and services surged, compelling the company to hire an additional 175,000 workers to keep up. Amazon is managing customer demand but struggling to contain COVID-19 outbreaks in its warehouses, creating a logistical and PR nightmare for the company. The virus has broken out in more than 130 warehouses, according to internal employee counts and local news reports. Amazon has not disclosed the number of employees or warehouses with the virus. At least three Amazon workers have died from COVID-19, according to the letter senators sent to Bezos this week.

This story first appeared on GeekWire.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Cadence

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

Read moreShow less

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

Read moreShow less
RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
LA TECH JOBS
interchangeLA
Trending