On Monday, Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island staged a protest against the company's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In response to criticism received from its employees, Amazon fired the man responsible for organizing the demonstrations.
Chris Smalls organized a walkout on Monday to demand the company close and sanitize the Staten Island fulfillment center before re-opening. Amazon reportedly told workers someone at the warehouse had contracted COVID-19, but Smalls contests that there's likely more unreported cases. So far, there's been at least 21 Amazon warehouses across the country to have tested positive for the virus. Smalls had his job terminated after five years at the company for his role in the protest.
"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 through labor group Make the Road NY. "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."
Speaking with NBC New York, employee Derrick Palmer said the lack of masks was a serious concern. "This is a billion-dollar company. You guys need to provide us with masks, you need to provide us with gloves. Not doing that," he said.
"This company is essential, but I believe I my life is essential too," another employee added.
Amazon released a statement in which it claimed Smalls had continually violated social distancing guidelines and was fired because he didn't stay home. "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," Amazon told HuffPost. "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."
The company has continually been criticized for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with employees citing the lack of proper safety measures and equipment to stop the spread of the virus. In response, Amazon has said it will extend its employee benefits to offer extended paid leave options, and increased health and safety measures. Workers who have tested positive for the virus are entitled to two weeks of paid leave.
Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, has also been under fire for its handling of the situation. CEO John Mackey told employees they had the option to "donate" their paid time off to workers impacted by the pandemic. As a result, Whole Foods workers said they would call in sick on Tuesday to demand double hazard pay, guaranteed sick leave to those self-isolating, and a more serious commitment to keeping stores safe and clean.