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Amazon.com Faces First-Ever Walkout as Employees Join Global Climate Strike September 20

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Tech behemoth Amazon.com will face the first strike in its 25-year history September 20, when staff at its Seattle headquarters walk off the job to protest their employer’s inaction on the climate crisis.

“Over 900 Amazon employees have signed an internal petition pledging to walk out,” Wired reports [1], with many of them taking paid vacation time to join the protest next Friday at 11:30 AM Pacific Time. “Most of the workers who have signed on so far work in Seattle, but employees in other offices, including in Europe, have indicated an interest in the event, as well.”

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The protest is connected to the global general strike [3] called by #FridaysForFuture founder Greta Thunberg ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York September 23.

“It’s incredibly important that we show up and support the youth who are organizing this kind of thing, because I think it’s really important to show them, hey, you have allies in tech,” said software engineer and four-year Amazon employee Weston Fribley.

“I have a chance here to influence Amazon to become a climate leader, and I think that’s the biggest impact that I personally can bring to the fight,” added principal user experience designer Maren Costa, who’s been with the company for more than 15 years.

The group behind the petition, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, has three demands: “They want Amazon to stop donating to politicians and lobbying groups that deny the reality of climate change, to stop working with oil and gas companies to optimize fossil fuel extraction, and to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030,” Wired reports.

And “the workers aren’t merely calling on Amazon to offset the impact of the greenhouse gases it emits into the environment,” the tech magazine adds. “They want it to stop using fossil fuels entirely. Converting fully to renewable energy is an ambitious goal, especially for a logistics company that relies on gas-guzzling cargo planes and trucks to deliver goods to consumers’ doors in two days or less. But the employees joining the walkout say Amazon is the most ambitious company on the planet, and leading scientists have made it clear for years that drastic action is necessary to halt the climate crisis.”

“There’s so many tools and capabilities within Amazon that it can really be a leader in this,” said product designer Danilo Quilaton. “That’s all I want as an employee of Amazon—to work for a company that’s taking climate change seriously and leading the push forward.”

The employees are responding in part to reports on Gizmodo that Amazon Web Services “has aggressively courted the business of oil, gas, and coal companies,” Wired says, and in the New York Times that Amazon sponsored an event organized by the climate-denying Competitive Enterprise Institute. 

On the first of those business decisions, “I think it’s totally legitimate to say this is a really harmful industry,” Fribley told Wired. “It’s accelerating climate change, it pollutes environments and communities in all these different ways, and it’s really dangerous—and we’re not going to do business with it.” 

As for the event sponsorship, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice members posting on Medium in July said they were “heartbroken and angry”, adding that Amazon had donated to 68 members of the U.S. Congress in 2018 who consistently voted against climate change legislation. 

“Now, the workers want Amazon to stop funding groups like CEI, as well as politicians who deny the harmful impacts of a warming planet,” Wired writes.

Earlier this year, members of the advocacy group who met with Amazon leadership were surprised to learn the company had few clearly-stated environmental objectives. “Unlike more than 7,000 corporations around the world, Amazon doesn’t report on its environmental impact to CDP, a UK-based non-profit formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project,” Wired notes. “This year, the retail giant said it would finally begin tracking its carbon footprint, but it’s developing its own secretive approach. Corporations that disclose data to CDP do so in a standardized way, whereas Amazon is developing its own methodology.”

Responding to the lack of clear objectives, “I think everybody at Amazon knows that’s not how you get stuff done,” Fribley said. “That was kind of eye-opening—to hear that there weren’t goals around reducing the amount of carbon Amazon emits.”

“Playing a significant role in helping to reduce the sources of human-induced climate change is an important commitment for Amazon,” a company spokesperson responded in an emailed statement. “We have dedicated sustainability teams who have been working for years on initiatives to reduce our environmental impact.”