Tuesday 10 September 2019

Amazon Employees Will Walk Out Over the Company's Climate Change Inaction

Over the past year, tech workers across the country have walked out to protest a wide range of issues. Google employees objected to the handling of sexual harassment claims. Riot Games workers demonstrated against forced arbitration. And WayFair staff left their desks after learning that the retailer profited from migrant detention centers run by US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Now it's Amazon's turn.

Over 900 Amazon employees have signed an internal petition pledging to walk out over their employer’s lack of action on climate change. The demonstration, scheduled to start at 11:30 am Pacific time on September 20, will mark the first time in Amazon’s 25-year history that workers at its Seattle headquarters have walked off the job, though many are taking paid vacation to do so. Most of the workers who have signed on so far work in Seattle, but employees in other offices, including in Europe, have indicated an interest in the event as well. The protest is part of a global general strike led by 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg taking place ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23.

WIRED spoke with three Amazon employees who signed the petition and plan to join the walkout. “It’s incredibly important that we show up and support the youth who are organizing this kind of thing, because I think it’s really important to show them, hey, you have allies in tech,” says Weston Fribley, a software engineer who has worked at Amazon for over four years.

"I have a chance here to influence Amazon to become a climate leader, and I think that’s the biggest impact that I personally can bring to the fight," says Maren Costa, a principal UX designer who has worked at Amazon for over 15 years.

Three Demands
In the petition, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice—the group of workers organizing the walkout—outlined three specific demands for the company and its CEO, Jeff Bezos. They want Amazon to stop donating to politicians and lobbying groups that deny the reality of climate change, to stop working with oil and gas companies to optimize fossil fuel extraction, and to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030.

"There's so many tools and capabilities within Amazon that it can really be a leader in this."

The workers aren’t merely calling on Amazon to offset the impact of the greenhouse gases it emits into the environment; they want it to stop using fossil fuels entirely. Converting fully to renewable energy is an ambitious goal, especially for a logistics company that relies on gas-guzzling cargo planes and trucks to deliver goods to consumers’ doors in two days or less. But the employees joining the walkout say Amazon is the most ambitious company on the planet, and leading scientists have made it clear for years that drastic action is necessary to halt the climate crisis.

"There's so many tools and capabilities within Amazon that it can really be a leader in this," says Danilo Quilaton, who has worked at Amazon for over two years as a product designer at Twitch. "That's all I want as an employee of Amazon—to work for a company that's taking climate change seriously and leading the push forward."

The protestors' two other demands were informed, in part, by news reports published over the past several months. In April, Gizmodo reported that Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud-computing division, has aggressively courted the business of oil, gas, and coal companies. In March, Andrew Jassy, the CEO of AWS, even spoke at a fossil fuels conference in Houston, where he stressed Amazon’s close relationship with the industry. The workers who plan to walk out want AWS to no longer sign “custom contracts” to help “fossil fuel companies to accelerate oil and gas extraction,” according to their internal petition.

“I think it’s totally legitimate to say this is a really harmful industry," Fribley says. "It’s accelerating climate change, it pollutes environments and communities in all these different ways, and it’s really dangerous—and we’re not going to do business with it.”

And in July, The New York Times reported that Amazon had paid $15,000 to sponsor an event organized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank notorious for its attempts to sow public doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change for decades. In a Medium post published in July, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said they were “heartbroken and angry” about the sponsorship and noted that Amazon had also donated to 68 members of Congress in 2018 who consistently voted against climate change legislation. Now, the workers want Amazon to stop funding groups like CEI, as well as politicians who deny the harmful impacts of a warming planet.

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