Amazon fires workers for attempting to organize over COVID-19 concerns

AMAZON WORKERS are walking out over health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Amazon is responding by firing them. – Jeenah Moon/Reuters photo

As the coronavirus pandemic puts a spotlight on working conditions inside Amazon warehouses, the company is firing workers for organizing over safety concerns. It’s something you might want to think about before buying anything else on Amazon.

Amazon fired New York–based worker Chris Smalls, who was involved in a walkout at a Staten Island warehouse to protest unsafe working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.

When Smalls was fired, Amazon said he had violated its policies by entering the fulfillment center, despite being placed in quarantine by the company due to potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Two weeks later, Amazon fired at least another worker, Bashir Mohamed, who was involved in labor organizing at a fulfillment center in Minnesota.

The Minnesota fulfillment center was the site of the first major Amazon employee strike in the United States in July 2019.

Amazon employees in Chicago, Detroit, and New York have staged walkouts and protests at Amazon facilities in recent weeks in response to what workers say is the company’s insufficient response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Amazon’s business has surged as brick and mortar businesses close and customers flock online for necessities. But workers worry they aren’t properly protected from the contagious disease while on the job.

More than 70 Amazon facilities have had at least one employee who tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to the Athena Coalition, an alliance of advocacy groups that focuses on working conditions at Amazon.

In New York, State Attorney General Letitia James and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio both called for investigations into Smalls’ termination last month.

In Minnesota, Mohamed, said that in addition to organizing workers to advocate for better working conditions, he had begun pushing for more rigorous cleaning and other measures to protect against the transmission of the coronavirus.

Mohamed, who worked at the warehouse for three years, said he believes his workplace advocacy is why he was fired.

Amazon told him that he was terminated because he refused to speak to his supervisor.

A second employee at the Minnesota Amazon facility told BuzzFeed News he believed Amazon was targeting workers involved with walkouts and production slowdowns over the last year, in some cases by selectively reprimanding them for failing to comply with social distancing protocols at work during the pandemic. That worker, who was also involved in organizing, said he was written up for such an infraction last week.

He did not deny violating the social distance rules but said crowded warehouses make it hard to avoid. He said he fears he may also soon be fired.

Earlier this month, Amazon fired Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two Seattle-based employees who were leaders of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group, the Washington Post. Both had also been outspoken supporters for safer conditions for Amazon warehouse workers, most recently during the coronavirus pandemic.

Regarding Cunningham and Costa, Amazon said, “We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies. We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating internal policies.”


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