Amazon Workers Walk Out Amid Layoffs, Citing Concerns for Climate

Hundreds of Amazon staff members walked off the job on Wednesday afternoon demanding renewed commitments to reducing carbon emissions to zero -- and a flexible remote work policy.

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Hundreds of Amazon staff members walked off the job on Wednesday afternoon demanding a flexible remote work policy and renewed commitments to reducing carbon emissions to zero.

The walkout is a collaboration between Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and an informal group of employees who oppose Amazon's mandated return to office. Employees say recent layoffs and the mandate - which increases emissions as workers commute - have left them questioning whether Amazon executives are leading the company in the right direction.

"It's definitely concerning how low the morale is," said a Seattle-based Amazon employee who walked out and spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. "There's a lot of distrust in leadership right now."

Walkout organizers estimated that about 1,000 employees participated in the walkout in Seattle and said that more than 2,000 staffers pledged to participate globally.

Amazon said it employs a corporate workforce of more than 350,000 people, 65,000 of whom are based near Seattle, and estimated that 300 workers participated in Wednesday's event.

Amazon spokesman Brad Glasser said the company is pushing to reach its goal of being "net carbon zero by 2040."

"While we all would like to get there tomorrow, for companies like ours who consume a lot of power, and have very substantial transportation, packaging, and physical building assets, it'll take time to accomplish," he said. "We remain on track to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2025, and will continue investing substantially, inventing and collaborating both internally and externally to reach our goal."

Related:Cloud Computing Sustainability: How Green Is the Cloud?

Amazon founder and former chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.

In 2019, the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group organized a similar action, demanding that Amazon release its carbon emissions data. Not long after, Amazon publicly committed to goals regarding renewable energy and net-zero carbon emissions known as the Climate Pledge.

But now, some Amazon employees say the company seems to be straying from those commitments. Last week, the company quietly removed language from its website that promised to get carbon emissions for half of its shipments to net zero by 2030, Reveal first reported. The news, which broke after plans for the walkout had been announced, helped spur enthusiasm for participating among employees.

To encourage colleagues to sign up for the walkout, participants sent Slack messages and emails.

"Amazon is actively accelerating this crisis on our watch, through our work, and each one of us have the opportunity and responsibility to do something about it," read one email that employees said was widely distributed internally.

Related:Amazon Starts Round of Layoffs in AWS Cloud Division

"We need to have a different Amazon," read another employee email. "One that doesn't merely slowly swap gas vans for their EV versions, but one that actually centers business decisions around sustainability. Very soon, building our operations to rely on the Prime Air air freight system, where there is no carbon-zero version, is going to seem pretty foolish."

Amazon has said the company deleted the Shipment Zero goal because it was superseded by the Climate Pledge, which addresses Amazon's whole business rather than specifically shipping.

But the Seattle-based employee said his colleagues have been using whiteboards inside company elevators to air their frustration about Amazon's decision to delete the Shipment Zero goal without communicating it to employees. He said he's concerned the change means the company won't hit its 2040 goal.

"I'm in a lot of these meetings where sustainability is brought up, and I know it's never a true priority. It's always about profit over sustainability," the employee said. "The trajectory doesn't seem to change. I think we're going to end up in 2040 at the same place we are right now."

Many employees who participated in the walkout were frustrated when Amazon rejected a petition written by employees asking the company to reverse its return-to-office mandate.

"I cannot believe that a company in this day and age that claims to be an innovative leader in its space would do that to one of its most precious resources, its employees," a walkout organizer named Pamela said at the walkout rally on Wednesday.

Pamela previously started a Slack channel to discuss return-to-office issues that has more than 33,000 members, which she called "the largest expression of employee dissatisfaction in company history."

--Caroline O'Donovan, The Washington Post

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