“Morale feels like it’s at an all-time low,” said a Los Angeles-based Amazon employee who plans to participate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their job. “In meetings and one-on-ones with colleagues, there’s so much uncertainty and lack of clarity from leadership. … It’s an unsettling time to work at Amazon.”
The walkout, which organizers hope will draw at least 1,000 Seattle-based participants, is part of a greater wave of anxiety spilling over into agitation among Silicon Valley workers as hiring freezes follow mass layoffs amid a looming potential recession.
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During a round of recent earnings calls, tech executives generally painted a rosier financial picture for the companies. But now workers at the notoriously cushy firms are growing more agitated — even as their power to make change wanes with their lack of job security.
Layoffs almost always create a “sense of betrayal” among workers, said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California at Santa Barbara, which is why it makes sense that workers are expressing frustration even in the current economic environment.
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“At many of these high-tech firms, there’s a certain sense of creating a new world, something better,” he said. “When you have a particular sense of a grievance and a righteousness, you can still have a worker or employee action, even in periods of recession or depression. Sometimes that’s transcended by a sense of moral outrage.”
Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Meta declined to comment. Amazon spokeswoman Lisa Levandowski said, “We respect our employees’ rights to express their opinions.”
Amazon founder and former CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.
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The problems with tech started roughly a year ago, as interest rates rose and hurt the ability of start-ups in particular to gain easy access to cash. Amazon was one of the first companies to say it had overhired during the pandemic as it responded to a huge influx of demand. By November, following Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter and subsequent slashing of staff, other tech giants soon followed suit. Meta, Google, Microsoft and Amazon ultimately announced layoffs, slashing tens of thousands of what were once some of the cushiest and highest paid jobs on the market.
In a March blog post, Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg called 2023 the “year of efficiency,” saying “while I know many of you are energized by this, I also recognize that the idea of upcoming org changes creates uncertainty and stress.”
For more than a decade, investors gave tech executives nearly unlimited bandwidth for spending in hopes of dominating the market and uncovering the next great technology. The tech industry was a gold rush, and its headquarters, San Francisco, was a boomtown. But now, storefronts and office buildings stand empty, and old friends waiting in line for the bus home ask each other questions like, “Did you survive the cuts?”
Critics of spiraling Silicon Valley spending would say the party for famously coddled tech workers had to end sometime. But the mood among those who haven’t already lost their jobs reflects months of mounting worry about where the industry — and the economy more broadly — is headed.
Enforcement of return-to-office policies is also adding to anxiety at Google, where workers have been waiting anxiously since January for rumors of additional layoffs to come true. Employees worry that the company might use in-office rules to thin out staff without announcing layoffs, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
At Meta, the company is expecting more layoffs this month in the third wave of a months-long workforce reduction that will eliminate 10,000 jobs. As news of the cuts trickled out, employees turned to Blind, an app that gives users with a company email access to a private and anonymous message board to swap intel about the cuts and gripe about the company’s leadership. In March, users participated in an anonymous poll on the platform about whether they wanted Zuckerberg to leave the company, according to copies of the post viewed by The Post.
Some workers have blamed the companies’ top executives for failing to make better investments or avoiding an overly optimistic hiring spree that partially led to these cuts in the first place, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Others were angry about finding out about the layoffs from news reports and the lack of clarity from senior leaders about the overall mission of the company, the people said.
Tensions between rank-and-file workers and senior leaders at the company flared up again earlier this year after Meta’s regulatory filings revealed that the social media giant had awarded some of its top executives highly lucrative bonuses based on performance that exceeded the company’s overall ratings. Later, Zuckerberg announced at an internal meeting that the company will change the bonus system for senior executives following employee complaints, according to copy of his remarks obtained by The Post.
At Amazon, the company has eliminated 27,000 jobs since 2022.
Four days after Amazon announced 9,000 additional job cuts on March 20, employees got more bad news: The company’s head of human resources had rejected a petition that more than 30,000 of them had signed asking for a reconsideration of the return-to-office mandate.
As a result, not only would all employees be required to appear in person three days a week, but some employees would have to pack up, sell homes and relocate without knowing whether the job they were moving for would still exist by the time they got there.
“There are so many people who are caught in limbo and unsure of the longevity of their tenure,” said the Los Angeles-based employee. “To me, that goes back to this complete lack of communication and transparency from leadership.”
Amazon recently cut employee stock compensation and has been closing divisions, killing products and losing leadership.
In March, thousands of employees joined a Slack group to discuss return-to-office policy and began pressuring the company to change its position. When that failed, those employees ultimately decided to stage the walkout that is now slated to happen next week.
The action — which will only go forward if at least 1,000 Seattle-based employees sign up to participate — is the combined effort of two parties: one is an informal group that sprang up in response to the return-to-office mandate, and the other is Amazon Employees for Climate Justice.
The climate group organized a walkout in 2019 that they said successfully pressured Amazon into committing to its Climate Pledge, which promised the company would be carbon net zero by 2040. But four years later, employees involved with the group say Amazon isn’t living up to the promises it made.
“Amazon is full of smart people who want to solve problems. We’re asking them to solve problems like figuring out what a more sustainable Amazon looks like,” the Los Angeles-based employee said. “Rather than engaging in that conversation, the Amazon leadership team is consistently breaking our trust.”
Amazon said its commitment to reaching carbon net zero by 2040 was in the works before the 2019 employee walkout.
As Amazon’s tech workforce has grown more frustrated over the last year, the years-long effort to unionize warehouse workers and delivery drivers within the e-commerce giant’s logistics network has stalled. Workers who have tried to unionize Amazon around the country say the company has put up fierce opposition to their efforts. At a Staten Island warehouse called JFK8, workers won a historic victory when they voted to unionize last year, but the company has continually appealed the outcome and delayed bargaining a contract with workers there.
On Monday, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint alleging that Amazon repeatedly violated labor law in its efforts to stymie union efforts at JFK8. Included in the list of dozens of alleged violations are statements made by Amazon chief executive Andy Jassy at a New York Times conference in November that unions make work “more bureaucratic and slower” and union workers are “less empowered.” The complaint is the latest in a series of regulatory actions and investigations into Amazon’s practice as an employer.
Amazon did not have immediate additional comment on the NLRB complaint.
One of Amazon’s core corporate tenets is what’s called having a “Day 1 mentality,” which is supposed to mean the company operates with the flexibility and zest of a start-up on its opening day of business. But the employees who are organizing the walkout say management is now “exhibiting Day 2 behavior and taking us in the wrong direction.”
“I think there is so much frustration with the company on so many fronts, and it’s all stemming from the same place: Leadership is making unilateral decision without the input of its workers,” said a Seattle-based Amazon employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their job. “And I believe that a lot of people are in a similar position where they are just done. They’re fed up. They want to be heard.”
Gerrit De Vynck contributed to this report.