Labor & Employment

ACLU seeks contact from Amazon workers after NY Times article describes demanding job environment

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A lengthy New York Times (reg. req.) article last week about the competitive and demanding Amazon work culture apparently was read with considerable interest by at least one organization known for its civil rights litigation.

In a full-page newspaper ad Friday in Amazon’s headquarters city, the American Civil Liberties Union asked Amazon workers who felt they had been improperly blocked from advancement due to illness or family issues to contact their organization. The ad cost $20,000 and ran in the Seattle Times, which also reported about the ACLU’s effort in a newspaper article.

“If there’s smoke, maybe there’s fire,” Anthony Romero, who serves as executive director of the ACLU, told the newspaper. He also noted that “Amazon plays an outsized role in the American economy and the American workplace.”

The ad pointed to Amazon’s male management structure and said women are disproportionately affected by family issues.

The New York Times takeout described multiple incidents in which employees struggling to balance illness or family issues with work were warned or written up for failing to meet performance standards.

Workers, including former book-marketing employee Bo Olson, remembered seeing multiple colleagues in tears. “You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,” he told the newspaper. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos told employees in an email that he didn’t recognize the “soulless, dystopian workplace” the article described.

“The NYT article prominently features anecdotes describing shockingly callous management practices, including people being treated without empathy while enduring family tragedies and serious health problems,” Bezos wrote. “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at [email protected]. Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.”

Amazon declined to comment about the ACLU ad, pointing the newspaper to the Bezos email. A Seattle Times article provides the text of the Bezos email.

Related coverage: “Is competitive BigLaw similar to Amazon’s survival-of-the-fittest system?”

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