February 29, 2024

Amazon workers gather for a rally during a walkout event at the company’s headquarters on May 31, 2023 in Seattle, Washington.

David Ryder | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Amazon employees staged a walkout Wednesday in protest of the company’s recent return-to-office mandate, layoffs and its environmental record.

Approximately 2,000 employees worldwide walked off the job shortly after 3 p.m. EST, with about 1,000 of those workers gathering outside the Spheres, the massive glass domes that anchor Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, according to employee groups behind the effort. Amazon disputed the figure and said about 300 employees participated.

The walkout was organized in part by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, an influential worker organization that has repeatedly pressed the e-retailer on its climate stance.

The group said employees are walking out to highlight a “lack of trust in company leadership’s decision making.” Amazon recently initiated the largest layoffs in its 29-year history, cutting 27,000 jobs across its cloud computing, advertising and retail divisions, among several others, since last fall. On May 1, the company ordered corporate employees to start working from the office at least three days a week, largely bringing an end to the remote work arrangements some employees had settled into during the coronavirus pandemic.

Workers gathered on a grassy lawn, surrounded by office towers and next to an airstream providing officegoers with free bananas, and held signs with messages like “Amazon strive harder” and “Earth’s best employer? Stop the PR and listen to us.” One employee spoke about how remote work had allowed her to spend more time with her family, while coworkers told her it enabled them to care for newborn children and relatives with special needs.

“Today looks like it might be the start of a new chapter in Amazon’s history, when tech workers coming out of the pandemic stood up and said we still want a say in this company and the direction of this company,” said Eliza Pan, a cofounder of AECJ and a former program manager at Amazon. “We still want a say in the important decisions that affect all of our lives, and tech workers are going to stand up for ourselves, for each other, for our families, the communities where Amazon operates and for life on planet Earth.”

Amazon workers hold signs during a walkout event at the company’s headquarters on May 31, 2023 in Seattle, Washington.

David Ryder | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Amazon employees are walking off the job at a precarious time inside the company. Amazon just wrapped up its employee cuts, and it continues to reckon with the rough economy and slowing retail sales, leaving staffers on the edge that further layoffs could still be in store.

Employees had urged Amazon leadership to drop the return-to-office mandate and crafted a petition, addressed to CEO Andy Jassy and the S-team, a tight-knit group of senior executives from almost all areas of Amazon’s business. Staffers said the policy “runs contrary” to Amazon’s positions on diversity and inclusion, affordable housing, sustainability, and focus on being the “Earth’s Best Employer.”

The backlash to the return-to-office mandate spilled over into an internal Slack channel, and employees created a group called Remote Advocacy to express their concerns.

Amazon employees who moved during the pandemic or were hired for a remote role have expressed concern about how the return-to-office policy will affect them, CNBC previously reported. Amazon’s head count ballooned over the last three years, and it hired more employees outside of its key tech hubs such as Seattle, New York and Northern California as it embraced a more distributed workforce.

The company had previously said it would leave it up to individual managers to decide what working arrangements worked best for their teams.

Amazon spokesperson Brad Glasser said in a statement that the company has so far been pleased with the results of its return-to-office push.

“There’s more energy, collaboration, and connections happening, and we’ve heard this from lots of employees and the businesses that surround our offices,” Glasser added. “We understand that it’s going to take time to adjust back to being in the office more and there are a lot of teams at the company working hard to make this transition as smooth as possible for employees.”

Amazon says it has 65,000 corporate and tech employees in the Puget Sound region and roughly 350,000 corporate and tech workers worldwide.

Employees are also using the walkout to draw attention to concerns that Amazon isn’t meeting its climate commitments. They pointed to Amazon’s most recent sustainability report, which showed its carbon emissions jumped 40% in 2021 from 2019, the year it unveiled its “Climate Pledge” plan. Staffers also highlighted a report last year by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that found the company undercounts its carbon footprint by only counting product carbon emissions from the use of Amazon-branded goods, and not those it buys from manufacturers and sells directly to the consumer.

Amazon disputed the Reveal report and said the details around the company’s Scope 3 reporting were inaccurate. Amazon follows guidance from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard in determining its Scope 3 emissions, or emissions generated from a company’s supply chain, Glasser said.

Additionally, Amazon recently eliminated one of its climate goals, called Shipment Zero, wherein the company pledged to make half of all its shipments carbon neutral by 2030. Amazon said it would focus on its broader Climate Pledge, which includes a provision to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, a decade later than its original Shipment Zero commitment.

“Our goal is to change Amazon’s cost/benefit analysis on making harmful, unilateral decisions that are having an outsized impact on people of color, women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable people,” the group said.

Glasser said Amazon continues to “push hard” to be net carbon zero across its business by 2040. The company remains on track to reach 100% renewable energy by 2025, he added.

“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.

WATCH: Amazon employees protest about sudden return-to-office policy

Amazon employees protests sudden return-to-office policy

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