Chris Smalls, who was an assistant manager at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, told multiple news outlets he believes Amazon has fired him in retaliation for his role in organizing a strike within the company. On Tuesday, New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced he’s ordered the city’s human rights commissioner to investigate the dismissal.
Smalls had helped organize the strike to protest Amazon’s health and safety policies following the news that a colleague had recently tested positive for the coronavirus. On Monday, Amazon workers staged a walk-out in an effort to demand more protective gear and hazard pay for whilst working through the pandemic. Many of the workers have expressed they feel the company currently lacks the necessary precautions needed to combat the virus.
“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. 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 reported to Business Insider.
Amazon, which has denied Small’s termination was in retaliation to the strike, has insisted Small’s was fired due to “violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk”. Additionally, its been reported Smalls was asked to stay home on paid sick leave (which Amazon has said was not complied with) after having come into close contact with a colleague who was confirmed to have had the virus.
So far two workers at the Staten Island facility have tested positive for the virus. Workers have expressed their concern they believe that number is understated. Smalls was reportedly in contact with the infected individuals on March 11, which would mean had Smalls been exposed that day, a 14 day quarantine would have made him eligible to return around the 25th of March. However, Smalls has stated Amazon did not request he stay home until the 28th; which was well after the recommended time of self-quarantine after exposure.
Amazon has insisted it has, and always will, take extreme measures for safety; including deep cleaning and procuring supplies. From the number of its participants, to its legitimacy, the company has disputed many of the details being reported in regards to the protest.
“Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable. We have taken extreme measures to keep people safe, tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available, and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances,” Amazon said in its statement.
While Amazon is claiming they’re going above and beyond, workers at various facilities have said essential supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are either rationed, or non-existent; putting them at risk of catching the virus. This leads workers to choose between going to work, risking their health, or staying home and not being able to pay bills.
According to Amazon, no one else has recently been fired at the location. Amazon currently has more than 800,000 workers around the country, and have states they are offering unlimited unpaid leave should anyone feel uncomfortable working during this pandemic.
Smalls has stated he intends to take the protest to New York CIty Hall sometime in the coming days in hopes of persuading local government officials to intervene; forcing Amazon to take further precautions.