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.
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Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake
Despite — or in many cases because of — the raging pandemic, 2020 was a great year for many tech startups. It turned out to be an ideal time to be in the video game business, developing a streaming ecommerce platform for Gen Z, or helping restaurants with their online ordering.
But which companies in Southern California had the best year? That is highly subjective of course. But in an attempt to highlight who's hot, we asked dozens of the region's top VCs to weigh in.
We wanted to know what companies they wish they would have invested in if they could go back and do it all over again.
Hottest<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk5MzIyNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTQ3MjQ2OH0.JYCNMjYvosYa5SI7701CH_jMFbeFdMcRCChXt442cq0/image.png?width=980" id="3927d" width="686" height="128" data-rm-shortcode-id="5defd5b7e1983aa7681f36d6e1783a7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="PopShop Live logo" />
Boiling<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk5MzIyOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MzI5MjYwMn0.h7Nq7GiwXTcg_7Io5WEXblFX0rWQHxn69RzluTh7n_Q/image.png?width=980" id="4e424" width="361" height="93" data-rm-shortcode-id="b53f9030fdb96b08d7cfdb5383c97bfb" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Scopely logo" />
Simmering<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk5MzMxNi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjM4MjQ5Mn0.XSHQfru9tTpdeBqd_ecb--8DiZg_vdyOtF9ZV9zAG78/image.png?width=980" id="839d0" width="455" height="111" data-rm-shortcode-id="79ffc10f23fc7ca1572d55df3f299f85" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Warming Up<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk5MzYwOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1MzE4OX0.fS5XtGx4M-tqWecrth6NCHawGSg2aSkb-yR-cY3wbtU/image.png?width=980" id="4fca7" width="600" height="600" data-rm-shortcode-id="6a5ba1810dd71af400ee8f61634cc56e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.