New York's attorney general called Amazon's firing of a worker following a protest 'disgraceful' and is 'considering all legal options'

Holly Pickett/The New York Times via AP, Pool, FileNew York Attorney General Letitia James.
  • Amazon’s decision to fire a warehouse worker Monday after he helped organise a protest was “disgraceful,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement to Business Insider.
  • “At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling and are deeply concerned about their safety, this action was also immoral and inhumane,” James said.
  • James also said her office is “considering all legal options” and has called on the National Labour Relations Board to open its own investigation.
  • Amazon has denied that it fired the worker in retaliation for helping lead the protest, telling Business Insider that he had violated a quarantine order after coming into contact with a coworker who tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

New York Attorney General Letitia James spoke out Monday against Amazon’s decision to fire warehouse worker Chris Smalls the same day he helped organise a strike to protest the company’s response to the coronavirus.

“It is disgraceful that Amazon would terminate an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues,” James said in a statement emailed to Business Insider, adding that “at a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling and are deeply concerned about their safety, this action was also immoral and inhumane.”

James also said her office is “considering all legal options” and that she had called on the National Labour Relations Board to open an investigation into the incident.

“In New York, the right to organise is codified into law, and any retaliatory action by management related thereto is strictly prohibited,” James said.

Amazon fired Smalls, an assistant manager who worked in the company’s Staten Island warehouse, on Monday evening following a day-long strike that Smalls had helped organise in protest of the company’s health and safety policies surrounding COVID-19.

“As usual, Amazon would rather sweep a problem under the rug than act to keep workers and working communities safe,” Smalls said in a statement sent to Business Insider.

Amazon denied that the firing was related to Smalls’ organising activities, saying instead that he was let go for “violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk” after the company asked him to stay home on paid sick leave after he came into “close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19,” the company told Business Insider in a statement.

Amazon has faced pushback from critics who say it hasn’t done enough to protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus, with workers in Italy protesting over similar issues last week. Amazon has confirmed COVID-19 in at least 11 of its warehouses.

Amazon has implemented additional cleaning and social distancing measures, the spokesperson told Business Insider. However, critics have argued that the company has done far less to protect warehouse workers relative to white-collar office employees, whom it has instructed to work remotely.

Amazon has been simultaneously trying to balance the safety of workers with increased demand for its services as coronavirus lockdowns worldwide fuel a surge in online shopping. The company has said it will hire as many as 100,000 workers in an attempt to keep up with that demand.

Read James’ full statement below:

“It is disgraceful that Amazon would terminate an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues. 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 organise 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, 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 Labour Relations Board to investigate this incident.”

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