Amazon is not doing itself any favors with its recent handling of employee relations. For a company that reported $75.5 billion in first quarter earnings, up 26 percent from Q1 2019, Amazon is failing to take care of its own—the front-line workers employed in warehouses across the world, and delivery people connecting with hundreds of customers every day.
According to an April 21 article in The Guardian U.S., "workers in more than 130 warehouses around the country have contracted Covid-19, with some warehouses reporting more than 30 confirmed cases." This led frightened workers to organize, many protesting by calling in sick, demanding Amazon close down facilities with verified COVID-19 cases and provide testing to workers, as well as offering two weeks of pay during closings.
Amazon has not responded well to employee asks, firing workers who have served as whistleblowers and described conditions to the media and public.
Without a central response to the disorder, higher-level employees are taking matters into their own hands, with some choosing to leave the company. Tim Bray, a senior engineer and vice president at Amazon posted a scathing letter on his website after deciding to leave the company on May 1. Bray worked for Amazon for almost six years, but "quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19."
Bray shines a light on the internal crisis at Amazon—particularly for unprotected, concerned employees—as well as one worker's trajectory from organizing to being fired.
"Stories surfaced of unrest in Amazon warehouses, workers raising alarms about being uninformed, unprotected, and frightened. Official statements claimed every possible safety precaution was being taken. Then a worker organizing for better safety conditions was fired, and brutally insensitive remarks appeared in leaked executive meeting notes where the focus was on defending Amazon 'talking points.'"
Bray also transparently discusses his decision, one not made lightly, denoting what leaving the company means to his personal wealth and professional life.
"What with big-tech salaries and share vestings, this will probably cost me over a million (pre-tax) dollars, not to mention the best job I’ve ever had, working with awfully good people. So I’m pretty blue."
If Amazon continues to ignore the situation with its workers, Bray may not be the only one to express his dissatisfaction publicly. Before the company even begins to look at mitigating the crisis on an external communications level, a smarter PR move would be to stop everything and reach out internally, to warehouse employees. Amazon's current internal communications process needs to be turned on its head. All employees should be updated on the measures taken for warehouse and delivery workers' health and safety. Not only are these employees on the front line for customers; they are on the front line for brand reputation as well. Putting people first is where a global company's mission should start and end, and for a company that makes about $10,000 a second, that shouldn’t be too difficult.