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.


Energy Shares Wants to Offer You a Chance to Invest in Green Energy Startups

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Energy Shares Wants to Offer You a Chance to Invest in Green Energy Startups
Photo by Red Zeppelin on Unsplash

The Inflation Reduction Act contains almost $400 billion in funding for clean energy initiatives. There’s $250 billion for energy projects. $23 billion for transportation and EVs. $46 billion for environment. $21 billion for agriculture, and so on. With so much cash flowing into the sector, the possibilities for investment and growth are gigantic.

These investment opportunities, however, have typically been inaccessible for everyday retail investors until much later in a company’s development–after an IPO, usually. Meaning that the best returns are likely to be captured by banks and other institutions who have the capital and financing to invest large sums of money earlier in the process.

That’s where Pasadena-based Energy Shares comes in. The company wants to help democratize access to these investment opportunities and simultaneously give early-stage utility-scale energy projects another revenue stream.

Read moreShow less

How These Ukranian Entrepreneurs Relocated Their Startups to LA and Found Success

Aisha Counts
Aisha Counts is a business reporter covering the technology industry. She has written extensively about tech giants, emerging technologies, startups and venture capital. Before becoming a journalist she spent several years as a management consultant at Ernst & Young.
How These Ukranian Entrepreneurs Relocated Their Startups to LA and Found Success
Joey Mota

Fleeing war and chasing new opportunities, more than a dozen Ukrainian entrepreneurs have landed in Los Angeles, finding an unexpected community in the city of dreams. These entrepreneurs have started companies that are collectively worth more than $300 million, in industries ranging from electric vehicle charging stations to audience monetization platforms to social networks.

Dot.LA spent an evening with this group of Ukrainian citizens, learning what it was like to build startups in Ukraine, to cope with the unimaginable fear of fleeing war, and to garner the resilience to rebuild.

Read moreShow less