Amazon employees plan 'online walkout' to protest firings and treatment of warehouse workers

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    Environmentalists protesting outside Amazon’s shareholder meeting

    Paayal Zaveri | CNBC

    A group of Amazon corporate employees is calling on colleagues to stage an “online walkout” to demand that the company reinstate fired workers, and to protest its treatment of warehouse workers during the coronavirus outbreak. 

    To participate in the walkout, slated for April 24, workers would all take a personal day off at the same time. It’s being organized by employee advocacy group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. Last week, Amazon fired two leaders of the group, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who were previously user experience designers at the company and who have been outspoken critics of Amazon’s climate stance and its labor policies.

    Amazon said it fired Costa and Cunningham for “repeatedly violating internal policies.” A spokesperson previously told CNBC that the company supports every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, “but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies.” 

    Amazon Employees for Climate Justice announced the walkout during a virtual panel on Thursday. The panel was intended to spur dialogue between warehouse workers and nearly 400 Amazon tech workers on the call, the group said. Previously, Costa said Amazon attempted to intervene in the group’s efforts to organize the panel by deleting invitations sent to other workers internally, which the group claims were accepted by more than 1,500 employees.

    “We want to tell Amazon that we are sick of all this – sick of the firings, sick of the silencing, sick of pollution, sick of racism and sick of the climate crisis,” Costa said during the panel. “We ask you to consider the stories that you’ve just heard, the deleted invitation to this event – is that okay with you, or would you rather be able to have this conversation, or the next conversation like it, openly?”

    An Amazon spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

    By staging a virtual walkout, the group wants to pressure Amazon to change how it responds to workers who speak out against its policies, including reinstating any workers who were fired “based on selective enforcement of policies and behavior guidelines.” The group wants Amazon to change its external communications policy, which prohibits employees from speaking about the company’s business without approval from management. 

    Amazon Employees for Climate Justice has had some success with making its demands heard in the past. At Amazon’s shareholder meeting last year, Cunningham called for Amazon to reduce its use of fossil fuels. The group is widely credited for influencing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ decision to announce a sweeping climate change plan last September. 

    The employees are also calling for Amazon to make permanent the benefits changes and pay increases it instituted for warehouse workers during the pandemic, including the $2 hourly pay increase, longer breaks. They also want Amazon to provide a public list of “confirmed and probable” coronavirus cases at its facilities across the country. 

    Amazon workers from at least three facilities have staged protests to call for the company to close facilities where there are positive cases of the virus. The company recently fired two warehouse workers from Minnesota and Staten Island facilities who had spoken out about Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers. Amazon has denied that it fired the workers in retaliation for speaking out.