Amazon Fires Black Worker After He Protested COVID-19 Working Conditions
Chris Smalls, a 31-year-old management assistant at Amazon, was outraged at the lack of protection against COVID-19 at the facility in Staten Island, New York and organized a walkout.
In turn, Amazon fired Smalls.
“They pretty much retaliated against me for speaking out,” said Smalls. “I don’t know how they sleep at night.”
Smalls and dozens of other employees at the Bloomfield warehouse walked off the job Monday demanding Amazon temporarily close and clean the facility after a worker tested positive for COVID-19, The New York Post reported.
The striking workers also demanded paid time off from the e-commerce giant for employees who feel sick or need to self-quarantine.
Strike organizers say there were about 50 strikers, while Amazon said it was less than 15 at the facility known as JFK8.
“Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe,” Smalls said in a statement. “I am outraged and disappointed but I’m not shocked. As usual, Amazon would rather sweep a problem under the rug than act to keep workers and working communities safe.”
An Amazon spokeswoman confirmed Smalls was fired, but she said it was because he had violated social distancing guidelines and did not remain quarantined, as instructed by the company, after he came in contact with an employee who tested positive for the virus.
“Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came on site today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk. This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues,” Kristen Kish said in a statement.
According to Amazon, workers’ accusations are unfounded. The e-commerce giant says it had taken “extreme measures” to protect staffers, including “tripling down” on cleaning, obtaining safety gear, having employees keep safe distances from each other, and instituting temperature checks for anyone entering the facility.
“Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable,” the statement said. “The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day.”
While Amazon is standing behind the firing of Smalls, New York Attorney General Letitia James called the firing “disgraceful.” She said her office is considering all legal options against Amazon and she called on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate the incident.
“At the height of a global pandemic, Chris Smalls and his colleagues publicly protested the lack of precautions that Amazon was taking to protect them from COVID-19. Today, Chris Smalls was fired,” James said in a statement. “In New York, the right to organize is codified into law, and any retaliatory action by management related thereto is strictly prohibited. At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling and are deeply concerned about their safety, this action was also immoral and inhumane.”
Smalls is a father of three who has worked for Amazon for five years. He claimed he was allowed to return to work for days even after the company knew he’d been in contact with the worker who tested positive.
“I put employees at risk? No, you guys did that,” he said.
“They do this to people in a pandemic,” Smalls added. “What am I supposed to do now?”
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Smalls isn’t the only Amazon employee worried the company not keeping them safe.
Amazon employees at several facilities said that the measures aren’t enough to keep them safe. They say “uneven safety precautions at facilities across the country have sown feelings of distrust between workers and their managers. Workers say they’ve become worried that managers aren’t being honest about whether employees are sick with the virus so that they can keep the facilities open,” CNBC reported.
According to workers at some facilities, essential supplies like hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are rationed or there are none available.