Coronavirus: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Quizzed Over Sacked Worker

Five Democratic senators have written to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, concerning Christian Smalls who was fired after he raised concerns about workforce protection during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month Amazon promised it would roll out temperature checks and face masks for staff at all its US and European warehouses (plus Whole Foods stores).

Tha came after Amazon fired a warehouse worker in Staten Island (New York), for reportedly breaking quarantine rules at the firm.

Image credit: Amazon

Fired worker

But it emerged that the fired worker (Christian Smalls) had helped organise a walk out at the location (another took place in Detroit) in protest at Amazon’s alleged lack of protection of the workforce during the pandemic.

Smalls alleged that Amazon had not properly cleansed the warehouse after an employee was struck down with Covid-19.

Amazon however alleged that Smalls was fired because he had contact with a virus patient, and then violated a paid quarantine to join the protest.

The dismissal prompted New York City’s mayor to announce a probe and the state’s attorney general to demand a US labour board investigation.

Lawmaker letter

And now Reuters has seen a copy of the letter to Amazon and Bezos about the firing of Smalls.

Senators led by Cory Booker of New Jersey questioned the order of events.

They cited a media report suggesting that Smalls’ two-week quarantine may have come after Smalls “had begun organising their colleagues to demand more workplace transparency and stronger workplace protections.”

Want to know about the history of Amazon? Try our Tales in Tech History piece.

The quarantine should have ended five days before the protest based on a possible 11 March exposure, the letter reportedly said.

“The right to organise is a bedrock of our economy, responsible for many of the greatest advances achieved by workers over generations,” the letter said.

Amazon for its part has said Smalls’ contact with the diagnosed worker was well after the 11th and that on 28 March he was told to go into quarantine.

The e-commerce giant insisted it had fired Smalls because he put others’ health at risk, not because he organised a protest.

Extra workers

But Amazon did itself no favours when a leaked note from an Amazon executive meeting quoted Amazon’s general counsel describing Smalls as “not smart, or articulate.”

He later issued a statement saying frustration over the health risks created by Smalls had clouded his judgement.

Last month Amazon announced it will to hire 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers in the US to help with demand during the pandemic. It has hired 80,000 of that target, as of last week.

At the end of December 2019, it reportedly had a full and part-time workforce of 798,000 people.

Last month Amazon workers were told they would be able to take unlimited sick days in March.

Think you know all about Amazon? Try our quiz!

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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