People should feel safe at work. People who still need to work during a global pandemic especially need to feel and be safe because safety is a basic workplace necessity. But when Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse tried to make that point by staging a walkout, it allegedly led to the firing of one of the walkout’s organizers.
CNBC reports that Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the warehouse facility called JFK8, said he was fired on Monday after he organized a walkout to protest what he and other employees considered a lack of protections for people who still had to go to work after one employee had tested positive for coronavirus last week.
“Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe,” Smalls said in a statement. “I am outraged and disappointed, but I’m not shocked. As usual, Amazon would rather sweep a problem under the rug than act to keep workers and working communities safe.”
Smalls told CNBC that all he and his coworkers were asking for was “a simple building closure and [for] it to be professionally sanitized.” He said that “people were afraid and that’s all we were asking for; nothing more, nothing less.”
A spokesperson from Amazon has a different story, confirming to CNBC that yes Smalls was fired, but only as a result of him being the one creating health risks by violating social distancing guidelines after being given “multiple warnings.”
“Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk,” the spokesperson said. “This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.”
In a statement, Amazon called the workers’ accusations “unfounded” and claimed they work hard at keeping their workers safe.
“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 company said in a statement. “The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day.”
So, it all comes down to who to believe. People may find it hard to believe that a major corporation like Amazon wouldn’t easily have the resources to see to it that their workers are being kept as safe as possible, but we also know hourly employees aren’t going to put their paychecks at risk for no reason. It’s also hard to believe that it’s a coincidence that the employee who organized the strike happens to be the only one to be fired for violating guidelines.
You can see the video here, taken by another Amazon employee, that shows how many people are still working and how close to each other they all are. “We’re all going to die,” the employee says repeatedly in the video. According to CNBC, JFK8 is around 855,000 square feet and has 4,500 workers.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James is taking the side of the workers, calling Smalls’ firing “disgraceful.”
“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,” James said in a statement. “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.”