Amazon Responds to Firing of Worker Who Led Strike Over Coronavirus Safety Concerns

Samantha McDonald

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Amazon has issued a statement after firing the employee who led a protest to demand greater protections for workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In an email to FN, a spokesperson for the retailer confirmed that the employee, whose name is Christian Smalls, was terminated after he had received “multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines.” According to Amazon, Smalls had come into close contact with an associate who was diagnosed with COVID-19, and he was asked to stay home with pay for 14 days in accordance with its current sick leave policy.

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“Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came on site on March 30, further putting the teams at risk,” a company spokesperson shared with FN. “This is unacceptable, and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.”

According to Amazon, 15 of 5,000-plus employees — or less than half a percent of its associates — at its Staten Island warehouse participated in Monday’s demonstration. A CNBC story published on Sunday indicated that nearly 100 workers had planned to walk out of the facility to call attention to a reported lack of protections after an employee at the location tested positive for the coronavirus last week. That worker is now under quarantine, and those who were in contact with the individual were asked to stay home for two weeks with pay, according to Amazon.

“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 spokesperson added.

Due to its status as an essential retailer, Amazon has continued operating its warehouses even in the states and localities that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus. The e-commerce behemoth has seen a spike in demand as panicked shoppers load up on household goods and shop online instead of in stores.

Including the Staten Island warehouse, there have been reports of Amazon workers contracting COVID-19 across at least nine facilities in the United States. In some cases, local media reports indicate that facilities were closed temporarily for cleaning and that workers who came into contact with infected employees were placed in quarantine.

Within the past couple of weeks, Amazon has taken heat for its policies regarding coronavirus-related paid leave. The company currently offers two weeks of paid sick leave to employees who test positive for COVID-19 or are placed under quarantine. Following that two-week period, workers can take additional leave without pay through the end of April.

Amazon has set aside $25 million to establish an emergency fund for certain delivery service partners. It has also committed to deep-cleaning its buildings and checking the temperatures of every person entering its Staten Island fulfillment center. This screening procedure is also expected to be rolled out in select sites in New York City and the company’s home base of Seattle, followed by other Amazon facilities.

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