On Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of Amazon employees staged a walkout to demand a more flexible remote work policy and a renewed commitment from the company to reduce its carbon emissions to zero. Amazon Employees organized the walkout for Climate Justice and an informal group of employees who oppose the company’s recent mandate to return to the office.
These employees argue that the mandate increases carbon emissions due to increased commuting and, along with recent layoffs, has caused them to question whether Amazon’s leadership is taking 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.”
According to the organizers of the walkout, approximately 1,000 Amazon employees participated in the event in Seattle, with over 2,000 employees pledging to participate globally. Amazon, which has a corporate workforce of over 350,000 people (including 65,000 based near Seattle), estimated that around 300 workers took part in the walkout. In response to the event, Amazon spokesman Brad Glasser stated that the company is working towards its goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2040.
“While we all would like to get there tomorrow, for companies like ours who consume a lot of power and have substantial transportation, packaging and physical building assets, it’ll take time to accomplish,” he said. “We remain on track to get to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025 and will continue investing substantially, inventing and collaborating internally and externally to reach our goal.”
Jeff Bezos, the founder and former CEO of Amazon, also owns The Washington Post. In 2019, the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group organized a walkout similar to the one on Wednesday, demanding that Amazon release data on its carbon emissions. In response, Amazon publicly committed to renewable energy and net-zero carbon emissions goals known as the Climate Pledge.
However, some Amazon employees feel the company is straying from these commitments. Last week, Amazon removed language from its website that promised to achieve net-zero carbon emissions for half of its shipments by 2030. This news, which was first reported by Reveal and broke after plans for the walkout had already been announced, helped increase enthusiasm for employee participation.
Participants sent Slack messages and emails to encourage their colleagues to join the walkout. One widely distributed email read: “Amazon is actively accelerating this crisis on our watch, through our work, and each of us has the opportunity and responsibility to do something about it.” Another employee email stated: “We need to have a different Amazon. One that doesn’t merely slowly swap gas vans for their EV versions, but one that actually centres business decisions around sustainability.”
In response to the removal of the Shipment Zero goal from its website, Amazon stated that it was superseded by the broader Climate Pledge, which addresses the company’s entire business rather than just shipping.
One Seattle-based Amazon employee stated that his colleagues have been using whiteboards inside company elevators to express frustration over Amazon’s decision to delete the Shipment Zero goal without communicating the change to employees. This employee is concerned that removing the goal means the company will not achieve its net-zero carbon emissions target by 2040. “I’m in many 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.
Many employees who participated in the walkout were also frustrated when Amazon rejected a petition asking the company to reverse its return-to-office mandate. A walkout organizer named Pamela spoke at the rally on Wednesday, saying: “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.”
Pamela started a Slack channel to discuss return-to-office issues, which has grown to over 33,000 members and is described as “the largest expression of employee dissatisfaction in company history.”