Amazon VP resigns in protest over firings of activist employees

Prominent web guru Tim Bray called out Amazon's leaders after he quit his job on Friday.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
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Tim Bray

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Tim Bray, a prominent software engineer and a vice president at Amazon, said Monday he quit in protest following the firings of several activist employees at his former company.

Amazon in recent weeks fired six workers, including four warehouse employees and two tech workers, after they raised concerns about safety in Amazon warehouses during the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon had previously defended the firings, saying each of the fired employees violated different internal protocols.

In a blog post, Bray rebuked Amazon's leaders over the terminations, calling the move "chickenshit" and intended to deter other Amazon employees from speaking out. His last day at the company was Friday, the same day Amazon, Instacart, Target and other essential workers staged May Day protests across the country to call for better protections from the coronavirus.

"The justifications were laughable; it was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing," Bray said. He said he was giving up over $1 million in pre-tax money, both in salary and restricted stock, "not to mention the best job I've ever had." 

Bray has worked at Amazon for five years and was a distinguished engineer for Amazon Web Services. He previously worked at Google and Sun Microsystems and is a co-creator of the XML language.

Amazon representatives declined a request for comment for this story.

Bray's resignation adds to the constant criticism Amazon's leaders have faced for their response to the pandemic, with elected officials, Amazon employees and activist groups calling for better protections for warehouse workers. Amazon has often cited its efforts to provide huge numbers of face masks, gloves and sanitizers for its workforce, though it's still had dozens of confirmed coronavirus cases in its facilities.

Bray gave Amazon's leaders credit for their work to add all these new safety protocols, but said the company was unfairly using its warehouse workers as easily replaceable staff.

Watch this: Fired Amazon employees accuse company of retribution

He said he raised his concerns about the firings internally. "That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned," he said in the blog post.

Bray was previously involved in Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a climate change group that during the pandemic has offered support for warehouse employees. Two of the fired workers, Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, were leaders in the employee group.

The other four terminated employees are Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls. Smalls was an organizer for the May Day protests and was fired after leading a protest in March at his Staten Island warehouse.

On Thursday, Amazon reported its latest earnings, with CEO Jeff Bezos saying his company plans to spend $4 billion or more on its coronavirus response, including testing for employees and more protections in warehouses. All that spending could result in Amazon reporting a loss during its current quarter.

"My only goal of resigning was to resign," Bray said Tuesday in an email to CNET. "As to the blog? I'm a blogger, I've been sharing the story of my life with the world since 2003, and this is an important chapter in my life. Enough people read that I have hopes the story is interesting and who knows, maybe sometimes helpful."