Amazon employee fired after coronavirus walkout says company is lying about cases

Evie Fordham

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Ex-Amazon employee Chris Smalls was fired last week after he organized a small walkout at the company's Staten Island, New York, warehouse, but he was back Monday to demand the facility be closed down after employees tested positive for coronavirus.

Smalls called his firing "retaliation" and said Amazon has not kept the public — or employees — up to date on how many employees at the warehouse have tested positive.

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"There’s 10-plus cases in that building unknown to the public," Smalls told FOX Business last week.

Amazon did not comment to FOX Business on the number of coronavirus cases at JFK8, the Staten Island warehouse.

"We are supporting the individuals who are recovering," an Amazon spokesperson said Monday. "We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site. ... [W]e have nearly 500,000 people in the U.S. alone supporting customers and we are taking measures to support each one."

An Amazon spokesperson said last week that Smalls was terminated for "violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk," including by coming on site for last week's walkout. He came in contact with a coworker who tested positive for coronavirus in March and was asked to stay home, but Smalls said he had much less contact with that coworker than some of his fellow employees.

The Amazon employees are not unionized but are receiving the support of groups including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

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"Amazon workers are speaking out across the globe because they need a real seat at the table in expressing their concerns," RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement after Monday's demonstration. "It took an 11-day strike for workers at one fulfillment center in Italy to win increased daily breaks, a detailed agreement on cleaning and sanitizing practices at the facility, and staggered break times and working distances."

"We demand that Amazon, at a minimum, listen to their own employees’ voices and make appropriate policy changes," Appelbaum said.

A coalition of unions including the AFL-CIO and RWDSU called for Smalls' "swift reinstatement" at Amazon in a letter last week.

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"These accusations are simply unfounded," an Amazon spokesperson said in response to the letter last week. "Nothing is more important than the safety of our teams."

The spokesperson added that Amazon has "implemented a broad suite of new benefits changes for employees in our operations and logistics network throughout this unprecedented pandemic" including an additional $2 for hourly pay, double-overtime pay and two weeks of paid time-off for employees who self-quarantine.

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This report has been updated to include a new comment from Amazon.

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