Amazon Fires Worker Who Led Strike for Coronavirus Protection

AURORA, CO - MAY 03: A worker moves packed boxes at the Amazon fullfillment center May 3, 2018 in Aurora, Colorado. The million square foot facility, employing 1,000 fulltime employees, has over 2 million products ready to ship to customers globally. (Photo by Rick T. Wilking/Getty Images)
Rick T. Wilking/Getty Images

Amazon confirmed to CNBC on Tuesday that they fired Chris Smalls, a Staten Island warehouse employee who led the call for better pandemic protection.

Amazon Staten Island facility “JFK8” reportedly fired Smalls on Monday afternoon, directly following a strike demanding the facility close after an employee tested positive for the novel coronavirus, also known as “COVID-19.”

“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.”

The company tells a different story, spinning the strike as a violation of “social distancing” policies after coming into contact with the aforementioned employee. “Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk,” the spokesperson said. “This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.”

Amazon further claims that they are “working hard to keep employees safe,” despite a long history of doing the extreme opposite. This is the company known for its employees relieving themselves in trash cans to avoid losing their jobs, operating with roughly double the industry average for serious injury. There are too many stories to list for this article, but suffice to say their reputation is… checkered.

“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 said in a statement, framing their ongoing operation as the result of “heroic” employees. “The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day,” they said.

Their employees continue to dispute the corporate narrative.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James called Smalls’ firing “disgraceful,” and announced that her office is currently “considering all legal options” — including asking that the National Labor Relations Board launch an investigation:

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. 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,” James said, “This action was also immoral and inhumane.”

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