Top AWS engineer Bray resigns in 'dismay' over Amazon firing whistleblowers

Tom Bray, a top engineer at AWS, resigns his position over Amazon's firing of employees. (Pixabay)

Tim Bray, a vice president and distinguished engineer at Amazon Web Services, walked away from his $1 million plus job on Friday over Amazon's firing of employees who protested working conditions.

"I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of COVID-19," Bray wrote in his blog. "What with big-tech salaries and share vestings, this will probably cost me over a million (pre-tax) dollars, not to mention the best job I’ve ever had, working with awfully good people. So I’m pretty blue."

Bray also wrote on his blog that remaining in his job "would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised." Amazon Web Services declined to comment on Bray's departure.

Prior to joining AWS over five years ago, Bray worked for four years for Google as an Android developer advocate. He also was director of web technology at Sun Microsystems for six years.

Amazon has made headlines for how it allegedly treats its workers several times this year. In January, Amazon allegedly threatened to fire climate activist employees working at the company. In April, Amazon allegedly fired several employees that were in the group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), who had criticized the company's warehouse working conditions while also calling for more protection for warehouse workers due to COVID-19 concerns.

In his blog, Bray noted that he was one of the 8,702 signatories of the AEJC's open letter that called on Amazon shareholders to support "dramatic action and leadership from Amazon on the global climate emergency."

Tim Bray (Source: LinkedIn)

In the mid April, Amazon fired two AEJC leaders, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, among others. Prior to her firing, Cunningham was a user-experience designer for Jeff Bezos-owned Amazon while Costa was also a designer.

"The justifications were laughable; it was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing," according to Bray. "Management could have objected to the event, or demanded that outsiders be excluded, or that leadership be represented, or any number of other things; there was plenty of time. Instead, they just fired the activists. At that point I snapped."

Bray said that as a company vice president, he didn't go rogue with his concerns but rather he "escalated through the proper channels and by the book." Bray said he wasn't at liberty to speak about what happened in his discussions with management, but said he thought voiced his concerns to the appropriate people.

Cunningham thanked Bray for his support in a tweet Monday morning.

In his blog, Bray described Amazon's firings as "designed to create a climate of fear," and an effort to "kill the messenger," among others.

"Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets," Bray said. "It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison."

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Bray said he believed Amazon has been prioritizing safer working conditions for its warehouse employees, but said the firings were symptomatic of larger problems at the company.

"At the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of COVID-19 response," he said. "It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential. Only that’s not just Amazon, it’s how 21st-century capitalism is done."

On the flip side, Bray went out of his way to praise the leadership and employee practices at AWS. Bray said AWS employees were highly skilled tech workers that have more leverage and job opportunities than the warehouse employees.

"I genuinely admire its (AWS') leadership," Bray said. "Of course, its workers have power. The average pay is very high, and anyone who’s unhappy can walk across the street and get another job paying the same or better.