- Five senators are pressing Amazon over its decision to fire an employee who organised a strike over safety conditions at a New York City warehouse last month.
- Amazon said it fired Christian Smalls for violating a 14-day quarantine order after being exposed to COVID-19, not for organising the strike. It’s illegal to fire workers for striking in New York.
- But lawmakers say Amazon’s timeline doesn’t add up, citing news reports and Amazon statements that indicate Smalls’ 14-day quarantine would have ended five days before the strike took place.
- Amazon disputed the lawmakers’ line of questioning, saying that Smalls made contact with someone with coronavirus less than 14 days before the protest.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Wednesday, five Democratic senators are pressing for answers about the company’s reasoning for firing a warehouse worker who organised a strike last month to protest working conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Amazon fired Christian Smalls, a worker at its warehouse in Staten Island, NY in March after he helped organise a strike. Workers who participated in the strike called on Amazon to provide paid sick leave to all warehouse workers and to temporarily shut down warehouses that have had COVID-19 cases for deep-cleaning.
Amazon insists that the strike wasn’t the reason for Smalls’ firing – the company says Smalls “had close contact with a diagnosed associate” and was fired for refusing to comply when “asked to remain home with pay for 14 days.”
But in their letter to Bezos, led by New Jersey senator Cory Booker, lawmakers seem to poke holes in Amazon’s explanation.
The senators cite the fact that an Amazon spokesperson told The Guardian that the “diagnosed associate” in question had last reported to work on March 11, meaning a 14-day quarantine for those who came in contact with him would have ended on March 25. Smalls was fired on March 30, the same day as the protest.
An Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider that the company confirmed that Smalls did in fact have contact with a person diagnosed with coronavirus well after March 11.
“We did not terminate Mr. Smalls employment for organising a 15-person protest. We terminated his employment for putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of his employment,” the spokesperson said. “Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite further putting the teams at risk.”
Amazon has maintained that it is ensuring safe working conditions at warehouses by enforcing social distancing, cleaning more regularly, and distributing protective gear to workers. The spokesperson said that Amazon has expanded benefits for warehouse and logistics workers, including an additional $US2 per hour, 2x base pay for overtime, and paid time off benefits for regular part-time and seasonal employees.
Some workers at the Staten Island warehouse have continued to protest working conditions. They held a second strike one week after Smalls’ firing.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.