Amazon, which is desperately trying to bulk up staffing amid surges in demand, has reportedly fired another three employees and suspended a fourth after those workers led efforts to speak out against working conditions in the company’s warehouses.
Two workers let go on Friday, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, are both tech workers based in Seattle’s headquarters, the Washington Post reports. Both were active in an internal employee group advocating for climate issues and had circulated a petition inside the company calling on Amazon to expand benefits and pay for employees in warehouses. Both also posted tweets in March offering to match donations to a fund set up to support workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Queens.
Another employee, Chris Hayes, was not allowed to finish out his notice period after he resigned from the company in protest of its treatment of warehouse workers, The New York Times reports. He gave notice earlier, saying his last day would be April 17, but last week, after he sent colleagues an invitation to a discussion with warehouse workers, HR told him he was no longer allowed to work.
An Amazon representative told the Post the employees were fired for “repeatedly violating internal policies,” saying, “We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies.”
An employee at a warehouse in Minnesota was also fired last week, according to a BuzzFeed News report today. The employee, Bashir Mohamed, said he had been organizing his coworkers to advocate for better working conditions and a more thorough response to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
Athena, a coalition of almost 50 labor rights, consumer rights, and racial justice organizations, issued a statement blasting Amazon, calling the firings “outrageous and quite likely illegal,” adding, “We expect better of every institution in American life in the midst of this crisis. If Amazon cannot ensure the safety of its facilities and resorts to firing those who speak up, public officials must step in.”
Not the first
The firings all came less than two weeks after Amazon fired employee Chris Smalls, who had been leading organization efforts among workers in the company’s Staten Island warehouse. Amazon strongly denied at the time that the firing was retaliatory, but a few days later, Vice obtained an internal memo from the company that clearly tried to make Smalls the face of the entire worker organization effort and to dismiss him.
“He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers,” David Zapolsky, Amazon general counsel, wrote in the memo.
“We should spend the first part of our response strongly laying out the case for why the organizer’s conduct was immoral, unacceptable, and arguably illegal, in detail, and only then follow with our usual talking points about worker safety,” Zapolsky went on. “Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on March 31 ordered city officials to investigate Smalls’ firing to determine if Amazon’s action was indeed retaliatory. “If so, that would be a violation of our city’s human rights law and we would act on it immediately,” de Blasio said.