Hundreds of Microsoft employees are calling on the company to cancel its contracts with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and make other changes in response to police use of tear gas and other violent tactics during recent peaceful protests, OneZero reports. The letter -- emailed to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and executive vice president Kurt DelBene -- addresses both the COVID-19 pandemic and recent protests. Over 250 employees were CC’d to show their solidarity.
The email notes that many of Microsoft's employees living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood have experienced tear gas and flashbang explosions used by the police. It asks that coworkers, managers and leaders living outside of Seattle recognize the “violent reality” that people in the city are experiencing.
“We are all in agreement that our neighborhood has been turned into [a] warzone escalated by SPD and that our coworkers and leaders need to know what is happening,” the letter reads. “We need awareness and empathy across every level of management asap so that the burden of educating our coworkers doesn’t fall on those of us in the middle of a public safety and mental health crisis.”
The employees ask that Microsoft condemn the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and flashbanging on peaceful protestors, cancel contracts with SPD and other law enforcement, petition for the resignation of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan “for her failure to protect her people and keep police accountable” and support defunding and demilitarizing the SPD.
The letter also asks the Microsoft leaders to support Black Lives Matter Seattle’s list of demands and encourage donations and employee matching to related organizations. The letter requests a four-day work week policy and that the company allow for a 50 percent reduction in productivity due to both the pandemic and protests.
In a blog post published late last week, Nadella said the company has “goals and programs to improve representation in all roles and at all levels,” that it’s using its tech and voice to create a more equitable criminal justice system and that it’s deepening its engagement with six organizations addressing racial inequality. But those promises are far less specific than the demands outlined in the employee letter.
The letter follows a history of Microsoft, Google and other tech staff pressuring their companies to ditch contracts with government agencies that do questionable things. For instance, thousands of Google employees successfully petitioned CEO Sundar Pichai to drop a controversial Pentagon AI project, and Microsoft workers demanded an end to the HoloLens contract with the US Army. It’s too soon to say whether Microsoft will agree to any of the most recent demands.
In response to Engadget, a Microsoft spokesperson provided a statement from Nadella’s blog post:
"As a company, we need to look inside, examine our organization, and do better. I have heard from many employees over the past several days, expressing calls for action, calls for reflection, calls for change. My response is this: Yes. We have to act. And our actions must reflect the values of our company and be directly informed by the needs of the Black and African American community. We also have a responsibility to use our platform and resources intentionally to address systemic inequities in our communities and in society broadly. This is the work we need to do to have lasting impact.” – Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO
Update 6/9/2020 1:10PM ET: This story was updated to include a statement from Microsoft.