An Amazon warehouse employee in New York who organized a strike as he demanded greater protections for employees amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has been fired.
Chris Smalls, an hourly employee at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse, helped organize a strike of employees who alleged that a co-worker was diagnosed with the virus and the retail giant didn’t take proper precautions.
Smalls was fired on Monday, March 30, following the strike.
“Since the building won’t close by itself, we’re going to have to force (Amazon’s) hand,” Chris Smalls said to CNBC this week. “We will not return until the building gets sanitized.”
“Taking action cost me my job,” Smalls said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “Because I tried to stand up for something that’s right, the company decided to retaliate against me.”
Smalls added, “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. “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.”
Amazon confirmed it fired Smalls, saying he violated safety regulations, including failing to abide by a 14-day quarantine required after being exposed to an employee with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
In a statement following Smalls’ firing, New York Attorney General Letitia James called it “disgraceful.” She said that she is considering legal options and is “calling on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate” the firing.
“It is disgraceful that Amazon would terminate an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues. 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,” she said.
“Today, Chris Smalls was fired. 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.”
Stuart Appelbaum, the President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union added that “workers should be protected when speaking out about safety conditions during this crisis.
"They are performing a public service. It is unacceptable that Amazon has terminated Chris Smalls for doing that today rather than addressing their serious COVID-19 safety problems.”
A spokesperson for Amazon noted that the number of employees involved in the walkout was also overblown.
"These accusations are simply unfounded. Of the more 5,000 employees at our Staten Island site, 15 people—less than half a percent of associates—participated in (Monday's) demonstration.
"Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis.
"Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable.”
In a statement, Amazon said the company is continuing extra efforts to sanitize their buildings and protect employees.
“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.
"We have taken extreme measures to keep people safe, tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available, changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances and in Staten Island, we are now temperature checking everyone entering the facility.
"The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day."
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