New York Attorney General Letitia James said it was “disgraceful” that Amazon fired a warehouse employee for protesting the company’s alleged failure to take protective measures for workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a March 30 statement, James said Chris Smalls “bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues” by organizing a public protest of Amazon’s lack of precautions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Smalls, a management assistant at Amazon’s Staten Island facility known as JFK8, said Amazon fired him Monday afternoon following the strike. According to CNBC, Mr. Smalls said at least 50 workers walked out of the warehouse in protest. He said they are urging Amazon to suspend operations at the facility after a fellow worker tested positive for coronavirus.
Mr. Smalls indicated that workers are terrified that Amazon isn’t taking the COVID-19 outbreak seriously, putting not only its workers at risk but their families too. The prospect of bringing coronavirus home is especially terrifying to those living with elderly parents, small children, and loved ones with diabetes or chronic health conditions.
“I don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t take care of their people, and Amazon has dropped the ball on that,” Mr. Smalls told CNBC. He said workers only asked for a brief building closure so the facility could be professionally sanitized after one of his colleagues tested positive for coronavirus.
“People were afraid and that’s all we were asking for. Nothing more, nothing less. We would have returned to work. They wouldn’t give us that,” Mr. Smalls said.
Attorney General James said her office is “considering all legal options” and has called on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate Mr. Small’s termination. She had strong words for the global retail giant:
“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, this action was also immoral and inhumane.”
Amazon disputes that it is failing to protect warehouse workers and says it fired Mr. Smalls not for protesting but for coming into close contact with a COVID-19 positive associate and refusing to self-quarantine at home. The company also disputed the size of Monday’s strike. It claimed that fewer than 15 workers walked out in protest.