On May 31, nearly one thousand Amazon workers walked off the job in Seattle to meet at the company headquarters and speak out against a range of company policies. They were accompanied by hundreds more Amazon workers around the world. The action demonstrates widespread discontent and frustration among employees.
The walkout was organized jointly by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and the leaders of Remote Advocacy, a community of Amazon employees formed in response to the company’s mandatory return-to-office policy. One of the workers’ demands is for Amazon to do more to reduce its carbon emissions. Amazon recently backed out of Shipment Zero, its pledge to make 50% of its shipments carbon neutral by 2030. It quietly deleted the announcement of this pledge from its website. Shipment Zero was a key part of Amazon’s broader Climate Pledge.
AECJ previously led a walkout in 2019 with a demand for Amazon to reach zero carbon emissions by 2030. Months later, two AECJ leaders were fired after petitioning the company for better COVID-19 safety measures in its warehouses. The National Labor Relations Board found that the firings constituted illegal retaliation, and Amazon was forced to reinstate the employees with back pay.
Workers are also calling for Amazon to reverse its return-to-office mandate, which requires workers to work from the office three days a week. The mandate is a direct reversal of the company’s approach to remote work over the past several years. Previously, the company left work arrangements to the discretion of team managers. Amazon announced its return-to-office policy in February, but offered few specific details until weeks before it went into effect.
The anger many feel at the policy was deepened by its hasty and forceful implementation. Many office buildings were not adequately prepared, and employees who were hired during the pandemic often found themselves without desks to work from. Employees who had been hired to do remote work found their arrangements rescinded. Some were assigned offices in cities they did not live in. Exemptions for disability, health and family reasons have rarely been approved.
Protesters also pointed to the carbon emissions caused by their commute as a point of overlap between climate demands and return-to-office. But beyond the immediate causes of the walkout are a longstanding refusal of senior management to respect workers and take their concerns seriously. For instance, in 2022, Amazon employees led a campaign calling for Amazon to remove anti-LGBTQ, racist, and sexist books and other media from its marketplace. Despite the fact that hate speech is forbidden by the company’s own content guidelines, senior management dismissed the petition.
One Amazon worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said this is part of a larger moment in the labor movement: “There’s the RTO [return to office], but there’s also been waves of layoffs for the last six months. So tech companies are really trying to cut costs and the easiest way to do that is discipline labor.”
But actions like this are not enough, he told us: “I think it’s great that employees are doing activism on the job, but one thing they need to take note of is the resurgence of the union movement in America. These are great demands but the only way we’re going to get them met is to unionize.”