Amazon fires warehouse worker who led Staten Island warehouse walkout

Amazon has terminated an employee based in the company's Staten Island, New York, warehouse after he participated in a worker walkout protesting the company's response to the novel coronavirus. CNN's Christine Romans reports the employee, Christian Smalls, was supposed to be under quarantine.

Posted: Apr 1, 2020 12:11 AM
Updated: Apr 1, 2020 12:11 AM

Amazon has terminated an employee based in the company's Staten Island, New York, warehouse after he participated in a worker walkout protesting the company's response to the novel coronavirus.

Amazon confirmed the firing Monday night, telling CNN Business in a statement that the employee, Christian Smalls, was supposed to be under quarantine.

"Mr. Smalls was 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," said Amazon spokesperson Kristen Kish. "Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite today, March 30, putting the teams at risk."

The firing follows the protest partly organized by Smalls, who had called on Amazon to shut down the Staten Island facility for deep cleaning after multiple cases of the coronavirus emerged there. In an interview on Sunday, Smalls told CNN he had spent the past week trying to persuade senior warehouse officials to close the building and sterilize it, but to no avail.

New York is grappling with the worsening coronavirus outbreak. The state has seen more than 66,000 people sickened by the virus, and more than 1,000 deaths.

Monday's protest saw more than a dozen people walk off the job at around lunchtime, according to Amazon and a livestream of the event viewed by CNN.

In a phone interview Monday night after his firing, Smalls said he is being singled out for punishment and that his firing reflects a culture of apathy at Amazon.

"Everybody's been warning me that [this] might happen, so I kinda expected it," Smalls said. "But for them to do it this way, and for the reasoning behind it, that tells you right there that they, number one, don't care about people, and number two, it's just a target, a straight up target."

Smalls said he next intends to visit City Hall to persuade local government officials to intervene.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said late Monday evening that "it is disgraceful that Amazon would terminate an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues."

"At the height of a global pandemic, Chris Smalls and his colleagues publicly protested the lack of precautions that Amazon was taking to protect them from COVID-19," she said. "Today, Chris Smalls was fired. In New York, the right to organize is codified into law, and any retaliatory action by management related thereto is strictly prohibited."

James also called for an investigation by the National Labor Relations Board. On Tuesday, Smalls told CNN that he intends to file a complaint with the NLRB.

"Legal action will be taken in due time," Smalls said.

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