One month after Amazon ordered its corporate employees to return to the office, some of them have walked back out. Rallies took place outside the company’s Seattle headquarters today and Amazon offices in some other cities. The employees are protesting Amazon’s return-to-office mandate and a lack of meaningful progress on its Climate Pledge.
“Morale is the lowest I’ve seen since I’ve been working here,” says a Seattle-based employee who started in 2020 and survived two rounds of layoffs this year that put 27,000 Amazonians out of work. “People have lost trust in leadership because they have made these unilateral decisions that impact workers’ lives.”
Walk out organizers say more than 1,000 workers joined the Seattle rally with demonstrations in other cities bringing overall participation to over 2,000. Amazon spokesperson Brad Glasser says Amazon estimates that about 300 people attended the Seattle demonstration. The company currently has roughly 350,000 corporate and tech employees globally and about 65,000 in the Seattle area.
While there has been a surge in protests and walkouts from Amazon’s warehouse workers in recent years, today marks the largest demonstration by corporate workers since a 2019 climate protest in which thousands of workers walked off the job. It comes with tech workers across the industry still reeling from an unprecedented number of layoffs, as companies cut back after pandemic hiring sprees.
In February, Andy Jassy, who took over as CEO from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2021, became the latest tech boss to announce that his workers must return to the office, ordering staff to appear in person three days a week starting on May 1. The day of that announcement, employees formed a Slack channel to rally support for remote work and sent a petition signed by 20,000 workers to Amazon’s leadership asking them to reconsider the mandate. Employees say the policy reversed an earlier promise that remote work decisions would be left up to individual teams and add that some workers had relocated as a result. Amazon bosses rejected the request.
That defeat amplified a wider malaise also fed by Amazon’s sweeping layoffs and the company’s soaring emissions—despite a pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The return-to-office Slack channel “created a place where a lot of people suddenly had a reason to talk about their gripes with Amazon,” says a Los Angeles-based employee who is walking out of his office today. “In doing so, we realized there was a lot of common ground and an overarching theme of Amazon taking us backward in a lot of big ways.”
“We’re always listening and will continue to do so, but we’re happy with how the first month of having more people back in the office has been,” writes Glasser, the Amazon spokesperson. “There’s more energy, collaboration, and connections happening, and we’ve heard this from lots of employees and the businesses that surround our offices.”
Over the past year, remote work has become a flashpoint for many tech workers who grew to enjoy the flexibility it afforded during the pandemic and in some cases reorganized their lives around the freedom to live away from tech hubs.
WIRED has written frequently of late about Elon Musk’s Twitter, so forgive me for coming back to it—but for those of us as terminally online as I am, let me just ask: What the hell happened last weekend?
I woke up on Sunday morning to learn that Twitter was going to block all mentions of, or links to, “competing” services, from Instagram to Facebook, to Linktree of all places. It was claimed to be about “preventing free advertising” of the platform’s competitors and to “cut down on spam.” Of course, anyone with two neurons to rub together could tell that this was a cover story—you don’t need a journalist to tell you that—and the great link ban was mainly about stemming the flow of active and popular users to other platforms while controlling speech in the name of Musk’s mission to [checks notes] … protect free speech.
What was essentially a small online riot ensued, with Twitter users from all corners decrying the new policy. Within hours, not only had the company backtracked, but all mentions of the less-than-day-old policy had been scrubbed from Twitter feeds and the company website. It was a whirlwind for anyone who was online to see it. (Although if you missed it, I wouldn’t say you missed it, if you know what I mean.)
But I’m not here to speculate on the true motives behind Sunday’s whiplash; I don’t think that’s helpful. After all, intention and impact are separate things. Regardless of someone’s intention when they hit you in the face, they’ve still hit you in the face. Now you have to deal with the situation that they’ve created. So my thoughts instead turn—and I hope yours will also—to the people impacted by the weekend’s policy change. Those Twitter users who spent Sunday wondering whether the platform they used and trusted to find and promote their work, make connections with others in their field, and in many cases, rely on for income, would allow them to continue.
When we at WIRED talk about “platforms and power,” this is what we’re talking about. Of course, any steward of any platform, whether it’s a CEO, founder, or middle manager, has the unenviable job of setting and enforcing the policies and guidelines for that platform’s safe and legal use. That’s not in question. Without such rules, online spaces can go bad fast. What is an issue is when those platforms choose to actively harm their users through policy decisions, and when those changes are large enough to force users to either adapt or abandon ship.
Let me explain: I’m lucky enough to know a lot of creatives as well as a lot of journalists and tech workers. When I woke up on Sunday to the news, it was delivered to me by tweets from artists terrified they’d be banned from Twitter for linking to their own portfolios and to platforms where they accept commissions for their artwork. I read horror stories from authors who were terrified that the Linktrees their publishers asked them to create to promote their books, reviews, and Goodreads profiles were suddenly bannable offenses on Twitter.
My friends on Twitch interrupted their streams to discuss the news, worried that they wouldn’t be able to tweet to announce they were starting a new stream, or add a link to their Twitter bio to help viewers find them. All of these things created the potential for lost income for people who, I would argue, need it more than the folks who made these policy decisions. After all, these same creators have the kind of disruptive, entrepreneurial spirit that everyone in Silicon Valley claims to want to foster and empower.
Hello, friends. My name is Kate Knibbs, and I’m a senior writer at WIRED covering culture and media. I’ll be your substitute Plaintext guide this week, as my colleague Steven Levy has generously lent me his newsletter. “Have fun doing my newsletter, please don’t go off on a tangent about the Kardashian-Jenner Industrial Complex,” he said before heading out, if I remember correctly. My bad!
The Plain View
Instagram sucks now. What was once a repository for photos of friends and family is now a junkyard stuffed with knockoff TikToks known as “Reels.” Looking at Reels is almost like looking at TikTok, except instead of an algorithm pulling videos to precision-match your interests, Reels are a chaotic hodgepodge of acquaintances selling gut health supplements for multilevel marketing schemes, strangers pushing sponsored content, amateur stand-up performances, advertisements, and—if you’re a parent—grim videos of sick babies. Sometimes there’s an occasional cute-dog clip, but all in all, Reels are an embarrassing attempt to copycat a rival social network that only serves to dilute Instagram’s appeal and alienate its users.
This isn’t an original complaint—in fact, a horde of pissed-off influencers have been stewing about this all week. Reality star Kylie Jenner reposted a viral plea from a photographer named Tati: “MAKE INSTAGRAM INSTAGRAM AGAIN. (stop trying to be tiktok i just want to see cute photos of my friends.) SINCERELY, EVERYONE.” Her older sisters Kim and Kourtney Kardashian reposted the meme shortly thereafter. The Kardashian-Jenners have even more reason to be irked by this change than I do; after all, they use Instagram to sell themselves and their wares, so a shift in its functionality poses a threat to their multimillion dollar business interests in addition to their ability to see cute photos of their friends.
Prior to this kerfuffle, Kylie most recently made news for taking unbelievably wasteful 14-minute private jet rides for fun. I do not endorse her behavior. But when she’s right, she’s right. And, as Verge reporter Ashley Carman pointed out, Kylie has a track record for tanking social platforms with her criticism. In 2018, when she casually noted that she stopped using Snapchat after its redesign, the company lost $1.3 billion in market value. For social networks, if you’ve lost Kylie, you’re in trouble. Should a 24-year-old climate villain have this much influence? No. But she does.
And now Instagram is in crisis mode. Adam Mosseri uploaded a frantic-eyed front-facing vlog the day after Kylie’s post, attempting to convince people that the shift to video is good, actually. Adam, Adam, Adam. Don’t piss on our legs and tell us it’s raining!
Hi, folks. If inflation makes everything more expensive, why are stock prices falling? Asking for a 401(k).
The Plain View
In all the months since Elon Musk has been maneuvering to control Twitter, not once have his impulses seemed to make any sense. Here is a guy who has concentrated on leveraging big science to solve big problems. He runs two huge and inspirational corporations, Tesla and SpaceX, both with considerable challenges for him to grapple with. He has another company that wants to solve the brain, and yet another to tunnel under big cities. He’s got seven kids … sorry, nine. He’s got to figure out how to get to Mars. Yet something made him obsessed with taking charge of a 16-year old enterprise based on short bursts of self-expression, to the point of venturing billions of his own dollars and endless distraction in order to do so, at least until he changed his mind.
The only explanation seems to lie in Musk’s own use of the platform—18,600 tweets. Twitter can make people crazy. It makes them do and say things they otherwise might not. And few have fallen as hard for it as Elon Musk.
So it’s no accident that in the wake of Musk withdrawing his buyout offer, Twitter’s suit demanding that Musk go through with the deal relies heavily on … his tweets. Right in the filing, the company’s lawyers screenshotted them to build their case, starting with the irreverent puns that Musk made indicating he was about to make a tender offer. (He cited the Elvis tune “Love Me Tender” and invoked F. Scott Fiztgerald’s 1934 novel Tender Is the Night.) The filing uses Musk’s tweets to disabuse his claim that the deal was void because the company had misled him on the volume of bot traffic on the platform. It also included multiple instances where Musk used Twitter to disparage Twitter, the company he ostensibly wanted to buy. Perhaps most damning was Musk’s response to Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal’s thread about the company’s efforts to contain bots: a tweet consisting of a single poop emoji. To quote the brief: “For Musk, it would seem, Twitter, the interests of its shareholders, the transaction Musk agreed to, and the court process to enforce it all constitute an elaborate joke.”
Though I’m not a lawyer, this seems like a clever legal tactic. I know from personal experience with a junior-high-school vice principal that people in authority don’t like it when you think the whole process is a laughing matter. Even the most impartial judge might be disinclined to embrace Musk’s arguments while he’s thumbing his nose at the revered regulations that lend order to our financial system.
Is this behavior Twitter’s fault? I’m sure it’s a pretty common thing for high-powered executives to talk trash in the privacy of their corner offices. But Twitter lures impulsive people to share those private thoughts with the world at large. Musk, whose riches must have made him feel invincible to begin with, has 100 million followers rewarding his online activity with likes, retweets, and supportive comments. Apparently, it was all too easy—and clearly plenty of fun—to add trolling to takeover.
In a statement sent before the results were announced, Apple spokesperson Josh Lipton wrote, “We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple. We are pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits for full time and part time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and many other benefits.”
Members penned an open letter to CEO Tim Cook announcing their union, called Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or CORE, and asking him not to wage an anti-union campaign. It went unheeded. The company retained the union avoidance firm Littler Mendelson, the same firm used by Starbucks. A near-daily parade of anti-union rhetoric followed, some at daily meetings, called “downloads,” and some in one-on-one asides. Managers would take individuals out of the store for walk-and-talks, sometimes as frequently as every hour, says DiMaria. In late May, Apple sent a video to all its US stores featuring vice president of retail Deirdre O’Brien. A union, she warned employees, “could limit our ability to make immediate, widespread changes to improve your experience.”
DiMaria says Apple deployed scare tactics to try to mislead workers into believing that if the union won, they might lose their benefits, that the attendance policy would become stricter, and that they wouldn’t be able to meet with their managers without the union. He says they appeared to be tailoring their messaging to individual employees, which a worker in the Atlanta store says happened there too.
Apple did take a different approach from Atlanta in its scheduling of group meetings to discuss the union. Previously they were required, according to Atlanta store workers. In Towson they were billed as voluntary, although they automatically appeared on employees’ schedules, and they had to actively opt out. The change in tactics follows a memo from National Labor Relations Board general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo saying those so-called captive audience meetings were illegal. In light of that guidance, the union representing the Atlanta store filed an unfair labor practice change with the NLRB.
Members of the suspended union effort in Atlanta have been in touch with Apple employees at other stores, including Towson, to advise them on what to expect from Apple and how to fight back. “When a manager says something in a public forum, it’s not enough to say it’s not true,” says Atlanta staffer and organizing committee member Derrick Bowles. Workers need to go the further step of explaining why the statement is illogical as well.
Bowles says managers attempted to paint union organizers in Atlanta as aggressors, frequently throwing around terms like “tension” and “bullying,” which he disputed in meetings. He says other Apple workers running union campaigns need to put these managers on the spot. “Like, ‘You say we might lose benefits. Is that a threat? Is that something you’d be willing to put into writing?’ You have to put leadership on the defensive. If you are on the defensive, you will lose.”