An anonymous online group wants Jeff Bezos's attention. They've published roughly 80 stories from people who claim to be former or current Amazon employees, and they say they're willing to launch a labor movement in order to address problems at his company.
None of the stories posted on the website (https://sites.google.com/site/thefaceofamazon) are the type of employee testimonials a company might want to see publicized. (Amazon, for its part, declined to comment for this story.) Many of them echo last summer's blockbuster New York Times article about Amazon's "bruising" workplace culture inside its corporate offices—a thoroughly researched piece that Amazon fired back at with a Medium post from former-White-House-press-secretary-turned-Amazon-exec Jay Carney. In it, Carney accused the Times of sensationalism and a failure of journalistic standards.
The website, which is hosted on a Google subdomain equipped with security measures to protect the organizers' anonymity, could be operated by anyone: reporters, a competing e-commerce giant, bored teenagers. To suss out the site's authenticity, I corresponded with its anonymous organizers, who call themselves the Former and Current Employees (FACE) of Amazon. In addition, I spoke to three more people who submitted stories to the website, one of whom told me she has a terminal illness and has nothing left to lose. A fourth contact made through the website directed me to a gender discrimination suit filed against Amazon in King County Superior Court.
In January, FACE penned an open letter to Jeff Bezos that they sent to The Stranger. "It's time for you to finally stop denying Amazon's management problems and start fixing them before someone else forces you to do so (or makes it happen in ways you may not like)," it read. "It was very disappointing to see you repeatedly publicly attacking the comprehensive NY Times article published this past August, which exposed key problems in Amazon's corporate culture. The reporters did a very holistic job with strong journalistic ethics, leaving out even more atrocious stories of Amazon management behavior which have now also come to light via social media."
FACE's open letter went on to criticize Amazon's treatment of employees. "We have gathered dozens of these stories from our members so that they can no longer be treated as isolated incidents," the letter read. "If you choose to ignore us and continue to deny the clear facts of what is going on in your company, we will initiate a labor movement to regain our rights through unionization as was necessary for generations of mistreated employees before us."
Not only did FACE threaten unionization, they also warned Bezos that they might pursue "wide-ranging legislative action from our political representatives, so that we set the right standards for the entire industry."
It was a bold statement from a website claiming to represent a segment of Amazon's nearly quarter-million-strong workforce. According to FACE's anonymous organizers, "as many as 5 people at various times" had contributed to their core group's efforts. FACE claims that in addition to the 81 stories published online, 166 people had also written to the website's e-mail address to express support for FACE's cause.
And what about metrics? "Our overall website has gotten over 27,000 hits since launching [last October]," FACE told me. "Over 22,000 are uniques. The overall average time per page is 57 seconds. (Some of the longer stories have averages closer to 4 minutes, so it seems that most visitors are reading our stories in detail)."
Whoever is behind FACE sounded authentically techy when they signed off: "Please let us know if you need any additional metrics."
The FACE organizers appear to be keeping their security culture tight, even protecting their identities from contributors to the site. "I know absolutely nothing about them," one of the site's contributors told me about the people running FACE. "But [based on] the way they've treated me, I tend to want to say they're legitimate and not looking to slander Amazon," he said.
The poster told me he wasn't part of the core group (or person) I had been e-mailing at FACE, but said he had worked at Amazon for three years as a software engineer. (His LinkedIn profile and endorsements appear to confirm this.) The poster eventually left under circumstances that he felt were unfair, but circumstances I couldn't fact-check with Amazon without revealing his identity.
"I was kind of curious what [FACE was]," the poster told me. "I was curious to see whether they were legitimate, or could have been, 'Hey, we're really people working for Amazon, trying to collect data.' But I waited a little bit to see other posts, to read them to see if they were similar to my situation and they were."
Not everyone I spoke to agreed that unionizing would necessarily fix what they perceived as problems. "Personally, I definitely want Amazon to fix [these issues] because I believe in the way they do things in general," another poster who claimed to be a former employee told me. "But I'm not sure about unionization."
Trying to find enough common ground among the ambitious tech workers populating Amazon's hundreds of small, fairly autonomous teams also seems like a difficult task. Nevertheless, the contributors I spoke to seemed encouraged by FACE's data-collection and publishing mission. If there's one thing they know Jeff Bezos might value and understand, it would be metrics, they told me. It remains unclear, however, how many "metrics"—and what kind—FACE will have to publish to get the attention of Amazon's CEO.