Amazon fires Staten Island warehouse worker who wanted coronavirus protections


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Amazon has fired a worker at its Staten Island, N.Y., warehouse after he helped organize a walkout over the company’s coronavirus responses, alleging he put others at risk.

Christian Smalls had demanded that the Jeff Bezos-led company close its Staten Island fulfillment center for a deep cleaning after a worker tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-March. Smalls, along with allegedly more than 100 workers walked off the job at approximately 12:30 p.m. Monday, the New York Post reported.

“There’s 10 cases confirmed here and the media only knows about one,” Smalls told the news outlet. “They have to shut this down. That’s all we want.”

FILE- In this Aug. 3, 2017, file photo, workers prepare to move products at an Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore.  (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

FILE- In this Aug. 3, 2017, file photo, workers prepare to move products at an Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore.  (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

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“Somebody needs to be held accountable,” Smalls added in his interview with the Post. “I saw people get sick every single day. I’ve sent people home with different symptoms, dizziness, vomiting, blood-shot eyes, puffy eyes. I’ve seen it all.”

In a statement obtained by Fox News, an Amazon spokesman said Smalls was terminated because he violated several terms of his employment.

“Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk,” the spokesman said. “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.”

Fox News has reached out to Smalls with a request for comment.

Amazon also disputed that 100 workers walked out. The spokesman said 15 people participated in the demonstration, adding that their employees are “heroes fighting for their communities.”
 
“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 spokesperson added. “We have taken extreme measures to keep people safe, tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available, changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances and in Staten Island, we are now temperature checking everyone entering the facility. The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a statement, saying “it is disgraceful” the company terminated Smalls, who “bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues.”

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“In New York, the right to organize is codified into law, and any retaliatory action by management related thereto is strictly prohibited,” James continued. “At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling and are deeply concerned about their safety, this action was also immoral and inhumane. The Office of the Attorney General is considering all legal options, and I am calling on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate this incident.”

A source familiar with Amazon noted the company has boosted its pay at the Staten Island fulfillment center, as well as its other fulfillment centers, giving workers an additional $2 per hour on top of the regular wages at the facility, which range between $17.50 and $23 an hour. They also receive double time for overtime and the company recently instituted daily temperature screenings at the fulfillment center, which houses some 2,500 employees.

Earlier this month, a group of four U.S. senators, including Bernie Sanders I-Vt. and Cory Booker, D-N.J., wroteletter to Bezos expressing their concern about the health and safety of Amazon warehouses’ workers. Democratic presidential candidate Sanders has been a vocal critic of Amazon.

The Washington Post, which is also owned by Bezos, reported that Amazon workers at 10 warehouses around the country have tested positive for COVID-19.

Earlier this month, an Amazon warehouse worker in Queens, N.Y., tested positive for COVID-19. It was the first known case of an Amazon warehouse employee being affected by the virus.

On March 11, Amazon announced it would give all employees diagnosed with COVID-19 – and those placed into quarantine – up to two weeks of pay.

According to a source familiar with the situation, the additional pay is to ensure employees have the time they need to return to good health. Amazon is also providing unlimited unpaid time off for all hourly employees through the end of the month.

The source added the company has implemented a number of preventative health measures for all of its workers, including increasing the frequency and cleaning of all sites, ensuring social distancing is being practiced, staggering shift times and enabling a temporary cell phone process for those who need to be in contact with family members or childcare providers.

Bezos recently wrote a letter to his employees, thanking them for their hard work amid the coronavirus pandemic, while acknowledging the crisis is likely to get worse before it gets better.

In addition, Bezos wrote Amazon had placed purchase orders for “millions of face masks” for their employees and contractors who are unable to work from home. “Very few” of the orders have been filled, Bezos acknowledged, as constraints are ongoing around the world and priority is being given to health care professionals.

Amazon recently announced it would hire an additional 100,000 workers and raise their hourly pay to help with the recent surge in demand due to the pandemic.

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New York State and in particular, New York City, have been the hardest-hit regions in the U.S. as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, though there is evidence the spread of the virus might be slowing, thanks to aggressive actions taken by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

As of Tuesday morning, there are 67,384 cases of COVID-19 in New York State, including 38,087 in New York City alone. Of those 67,384, 1,342 people have died, 914 in New York City. Cases in New York State make up 40.9 percent of cases in the U.S., and only seven countries – the U.S., Italy, Spain, China, Germany, France and Iran – have more cases than New York City.

On March 22, the 62-year-old Cuomo issued an executive order urging all New Yorkers to work from home unless they are an essential worker to stop the spread of coronavirus.

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Fox News’ Vicki Choi, Gillian Turner and Lissa Kaplan contributed to this story.



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