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Amazon Employees Walk Out to Protest Climate, RTO Policies

(Bloomberg) -- A few hundred Inc. employees walked off the job Wednesday to protest the company’s return-to-work policies, impact on the climate and deepest-ever round of layoffs.

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The protest, organized by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and Amazon’s Remote Advocacy group, took place at the company’s Seattle headquarters during the lunch hour.


The workers gathered under leaden skies near the Spheres, the plant-filled orbs at the heart of the corporate campus, brandishing signs saying, “Hell no, RTO!” and “Listen to your employees. Stop greenwashing.”

The groups said almost 2,000 workers globally pledged to join the walkout, a small fraction of the company’s more than 300,000 corporate personnel.

Morale has taken a hit at Amazon headquarters since the company began layoffs late last year that ultimately affected about 27,000 employees. Amazon also ordered most corporate staff to report to the office at least three days a week starting in May, a move that was not universally applauded.

The e-commerce and cloud computing giant has weathered a number of employee protests and walkouts in recent years. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice began in late 2018 as a gathering of people who shared concerns about climate change and their employer’s role in it. They started a push to get the company to do more, including organizing a walkout in September 2019 that was timed to coincide with global strikes to call for more action to combat global warming.

The day before those protests, Amazon unveiled a “Climate Pledge” and said its operations would become carbon neutral by 2040. Employee activists claimed victory but said the actions didn’t go far enough and urged executives to cut Amazon’s ties to fossil-fuel companies, among other actions. Amazon has woven its environmental goals into more of its operations in recent years, though it also quietly abandoned a climate goal that preceded the Climate Pledge that would have rendered half its shipments carbon-emission-free by 2030.

Amazon fired two of the climate group’s founding members in 2020 after they criticized its Covid-19 policies and sought to hold forums with warehouse workers. Amazon said Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa were terminated for violating its policy prohibiting employees from speaking publicly about company matters. In 2021, Amazon settled with the workers to end a federal investigation into allegations it retaliated against them for their workplace activism.

“Amazon will not make these changes without pressure, but they have and they will make them,” said Cunningham, who attended the Wednesday protest.

“We continue to push hard on getting to net carbon zero by 2040,” said Brad Glasser, an Amazon spokesperson. “While we all would like to get there tomorrow, for companies like ours who consume a lot of power, and have very substantial transportation, packaging and physical building assets, it’ll take time to accomplish.” Glasser said the company was on track get all of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

On Amazon’s return-to-work policy, he said: “There’s more energy, collaboration and connections happening, and we’ve heard this from lots of employees and the businesses that surround our offices. We understand that it’s going to take time to adjust back to being in the office more.”

(Updated with comment from climate activist in ninth paragraph.)

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