Amazon Fires NYC Worker Who Organized Walk-Out Protest Over Lack of Virus Protections

The company confirmed Smalls had been fired, telling CNBC that Smalls received "multiple warnings" about maintaining social distancing guidelines

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Dozens of Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse walked out of work Monday to protest the company's "lack of safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic," demanding the location be shut down for at least two weeks — and the man who organized the walk-out was fired, according to a report.

Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the 855,000-square foot facility, lost his job after the event, CNBC reports.

“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.” 

Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference that he ordered the city's Commission on Human Rights to investigate Amazon to see if he indeed lose his job for speaking out.

"If so that would  be a violation of our city human rights law, (and) we would act on it immediately," de Blasio said.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said it was "disgraceful" Smalls lost his job and that Amazon would "terminate an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues." James said her office is looking into the matter.

"At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling and are deeply concerned about their safety, this action was also immoral and inhumane. The Office of the Attorney General is considering all legal options, and I am calling on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate this incident," James said in a statement.

Amazon issued a statement calling Smalls' accusations wholly unfounded. The company confirmed his firing, saying he received "multiple warnings" about maintaining social distancing guidelines and that he refused to stay in isolation after coming in contact with a coworker who tested positive for COVID-19.

While Amazon says only one employee at the location has gotten sick, other workers say the actual number is higher than that at the facility that employs 4,500 people.

"This is a billion-dollar company. You guys need to provide us with masks, you need to provide us with gloves. Not doing that," said Derrick Palmer, an employee at the internet behemoth's 855,000-square foot shipment center.

The workers demand the company offer paid leave for the time the facility, known as JFK8, is thoroughly cleaned. "This company is essential, but I believe my life is essential too," said another employee.

Amazon says it knows that, saying in a statement, "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," the company's statement continued. "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."

Meanwhile, Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda also issued a response to Amazon’s firing of Smalls. Joint Council 16 represents 120,000 workers and 27 local unions in Downstate New York and Puerto Rico, including workers in the warehouse, logistics, and package delivery industries.

"The New York Teamsters strongly condemn Amazon’s retaliatory dismissal of Chris Smalls after he and his coworkers bravely walked out in protest of the company’s failure to address serious safety concerns amidst this pandemic," Miranda's statement said in part. “All workers deserve a safe and healthy workplace, a voice on the job, and an environment free from retaliation. This is even more imperative during moments of crisis such as this."

Miranda's statement went on to say: "It is inexcusable that Amazon, one of the most powerful companies in the world, attempts to silence workers who are standing up for their safety, the safety of their families, and the safety of our communities. Amazon should immediately reinstate Chris Smalls and address the safety concerns of JFK8 workers and all the other Amazon workers rising up across the country.

"Corporations like Amazon have billions of dollars, but as workers our greatest power is solidarity. The New York Teamsters stand in solidarity with workers in New York and across the country who are collectively demanding that our lives be put ahead of corporate profits.”

Workers at Amazon aren't the only ones concerned over their work conditions, as some Instacart employees are sitting out deliveries until they get protective equipment, $5 hazard pay per order and 10 percent default tip.

Whole Worker, a workers group for Whole Foods employees, is also calling for a nationwide “sick out” on Wednesday as it demands hazard pay, immediate shut down of stores if a worker tests positive and health care benefits for part-time and seasonal workers. Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, is offering a temporary $2 raise in hourly wages and two weeks of paid time off for anyone who tests positive for coronavirus or who is quarantined.

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