Amazon threatens to fire employees demanding climate justice

Employees who spoke up about the company and its role in climate change received threats from above

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published January 2, 2020 5:40PM (EST)

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice march to demand that leaders take action on climate change (JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice march to demand that leaders take action on climate change (JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

Amazon threatened to fire workers for speaking out to the press against the company’s role in climate change, according to the grassroots Amazon employee organization Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (AECJ)‏.

The group is made up of Amazon workers who have staged a walk-out of thousands of employees, and confronted CEO Jeff Bezos demanding that he address their concerns about the company's role in the climate crisis.

Amazon employee Maren Costa, a User Experience Principal Designer, was threatened with termination of employment for speaking to the Washington Post in October. Salon has viewed the email threatening her termination for allegedly violating the company’s external communications policy.

Costa was under an internal investigation after Amazon learned she was quoted in the Washington Post article. In the email, an employee relations employee said Costa did not “knowingly” violate the company’s external communications policy, therefore she would not receive a “formal corrective action.” However, the email stated that future violations could result in a “formal corrective action,” which could include termination. The email was sent on November 22.

According to a separate Washington Post report, Costa is one of at least two Amazon employees who have been warned via email. A third employee was reportedly warned in a separate meeting. AECJ published a press release on Jan. 2 on Twitter with statements from employees regarding the warnings.

“Now is a time when we need to have Communications policies that let us speak honestly about our company’s role in the climate crisis,” Costa said in the press release. “This is not the time to shoot the messengers. This is not the time to silence those who are speaking out.”

According to the AECJ press release, Amazon updated its policy about workers speaking to the press and on social media one day after the group announced they were organizing the climate walkout in September. The updated policy requires Amazon employees to seek approval from Amazon prior to speaking out about the company in any public forum.

In a statement to the Washington Post, an Amazon spokesperson said the policy “is not new" and "is similar to other large companies."

Workers say the policy is just a way to silence employees from speaking out against the company.

“This policy is aimed at silencing discussion around publicly available information,” Victoria Liang, a software engineer at Amazon said in the press release. “It has nothing to do with protecting confidential data which is covered by a completely different set of policies.”

Another Amazon employee,  Justin Campbell, a data engineer, said in a press release that the policy won’t silence the workers' activism.

“Amazon’s policy is not going to stop the momentum tech workers have built over the past year at Amazon,” Campbell said in the press release. “The climate crisis is the greatest challenge we face and the only way we can find solutions is by protecting people’s right to speak freely and disrupting the status quo.”

On September 19, 2019, one day before the walkout, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced Amazon's "Climate Pledge," which aims to achieve net zero annual carbon emissions by 2040. AECJ is pushing Amazon to commit to zero emissions by 2030, in addition to stop supporting climate-denying politicians, lobbyists and think tanks. Amazon currently offers its cloud computing services to oil and gas companies.

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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