Health

Amazon Fired Worker Who Led Strike Over Coronavirus Concerns

After news of the Amazon labor strike organizer’s firing broke, New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a statement blasting the company.

Amazon employees hold a protest and walkout over conditions at the company's Staten Island distribution facility on March 30, 2020 in New York City. | Getty Images
Amazon employees hold a protest and walkout over conditions at the company's Staten Island distribution facility on March 30, 2020 in New York City. | Getty Images

Amazon worker Chris Smalls said he was fired from the company after leading a strike at a Staten Island warehouse over coronavirus safety concerns. 

Smalls said in an interview with Bloomberg TV that the company hasn’t provided adequate safety protections for at-risk workers, so he organized a demonstration on Monday. Workers wanted the warehouse to be closed for cleaning after they said multiple people tested positive for COVID-19, and they wanted to be paid during that period.
 
“The company dropped the ball on this. They’re not treating their people right, and I had to take action,” Smalls said in the interview. “Unfortunately, taking action — it cost me my job.”

Others Amazon workers across the country have reportedly been hearing first about infected coworkers through rumors rather than the company. Amazon called the claims related to the Staten Island strike “simply unfounded” in a statement to ABC.

Amazon confirmed Smalls’ firing to Bloomberg TV, attributing his termination to violating safety regulations, including not self-quarantining for 14 days after being exposed to a coworker infected with COVID-19. On Tuesday night, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wants the city to investigate Smalls' firing.

"Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement to NowThis. "He was also found to have had close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was asked to remain home with pay for 14-days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world. Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk. This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues."

Smalls said the claim is "ridiculous," according to Bloomberg News.

After the news of his firing broke, New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a statement blasting Amazon. 

“It is disgraceful that Amazon would terminate an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues,” James wrote. “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.”

In the interview with Bloomberg TV, Smalls said he hasn’t seen his two children in over a month because of COVID-19 concerns, and that many coworkers have been scared to go to work. 

“We have plenty of workers that haven’t been to work for the entire month of March because they’re scared for their lives,” Smalls said. “A lot of them was out there protesting with me today. We have people who have lupus. We have people who have asthma. We have people who have infants at home. We have [pregnant people]. These are people that are being unpaid right now — myself included.”

This story has been updated to include a statement from Amazon.