A group of Amazon employees who organized a walkout in September to call for action on climate change says the Seattle-based company has threatened to fire some of them if they continue to speak publicly about Amazon's business.
The group is called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. Since 2018, the group has called on Amazon to transition away from using fossil fuels and reduce its business with oil and gas companies. On Sept. 20, Amazon workers around the world walked out to join a youth-led climate strike.
Some employees received emails a couple months later threatening termination for violating the company's external communications policy, according to a statement from Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. Others were called into meetings where they were told they violated the policy.
Maren Costa, an Amazon user-experience designer, spoke to The Washington Post for an Oct. 10 article about Amazon's response to pressure from employee activists. On Nov. 22, Costa received an email from Eric Sjoding in the company's HR group.
In the email, Sjoding says Costa did not "knowingly violate the External Communications policy" when speaking to The Post, so no formal action was taken. But, "Future violations of the policy may result in formal corrective action, up to and including termination of your employment with Amazon," Sjoding wrote.
"Our policy regarding external communications is not new and we believe is similar to other large companies," Amazon spokeswoman Jaci Anderson said in an emailed statement.
The employee group says the policy was updated after their walkout was announced and is being used to justify silencing workers.
"This is not the time to shoot the messengers," Costa said in the group's statement. "This is not the time to silence those who are speaking out."
Private-sector employees do have some speech protections under the National Labor Relations Act. But there is a gray area when workers organize around social or political issues, says Charlotte Garden, a labor law professor at Seattle University School of Law.
"Part of it is that different agencies under different administrations might come down different ways," Garden said. "One thing that can help workers is to be explicit in how they're tying what they're saying to their own working conditions."
Regardless of whether companies' specific policies are enforceable, Garden says they can still have a chilling effect on workers.