On Monday, Amazon fired Chris Smalls, a worker at its Staten Island, New York, warehouse, who had organized a protest demanding more protection for workers amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Smalls, in a statement, said, “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 am not shocked. As usual, Amazon would rather sweep a problem under the rug than act to keep workers and working communities safe.”
Amazon spokesperson Kristen Kish denied the firing had anything to do with protected labor activity. “We did not terminate Mr Smalls employment for organizing a 15-person protest,” she said in an emailed statement. “We terminated his employment for putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of his employment.”
Strike organizers have disputed Amazon’s attendance figures, claiming about 50 people walked out.
Kish said Smalls had received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines and had been asked to remain home with pay for two weeks because he had been in the proximity of another worker confirmed to have COVID-19. By ignoring that instruction and coming on-site, she said, he was putting colleagues at risk.
Concern about health safety has spread across Amazon’s workforce. Workers at Amazon’s Whole Foods grocery chain on Tuesday staged a sick-out, demanding 2x hazard pay for working in stores where they may be exposed to coronavirus.
The company last month boosted pay for Amazon and Whole Foods hourly employees in the US and Canada by $2 an hour and £2 per hour for employees in the UK during the month of April. And it said it would double its hourly base rate – ranging from $17.50 to $23/hour at JFK8, its Staten Island warehouse – for overtime from March 16, 2020 through May 3, 2020. The company has also offered two weeks of pay for workers quarantined for coronavirus.