Nine US Senators including former presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris (D-CA) have written a letter to Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, seeking information about the eCommerce giants policies for discipline and termination regarding workers who raise health and safety concerns.
The letter focused on four former Amazon workers who were fired shortly after they publicly raised concerns about warehouse conditions during the pandemic in March and April. These were Chris Smalls and Bashir Mohamed and tech employees Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham.
“In order to understand how the termination of employees that raised concerns about health and safety conditions did not constitute retaliation for whistleblowing, we are requesting information about Amazon’s policies regarding grounds for employee discipline and termination,” read the letter.
Smalls worked for Amazon for five years at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, where at least one employee has tested positive for COVID-19.
Smalls had been “trying to persuade senior warehouse officials to close the building and sterilize it, but to no avail” due to the coronavirus exposure at his job site.
When management did not respond, Smalls helped organized a walkout, calling on Amazon to close the facility so it could be deep cleaned.
The letter said that Amazon fired Smalls after the walkout – an then designed a public relations strategy which, according to a leaked memo, called for “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’.
The Senators said in the letter that although Amazon closed some warehouses for 48 hours for deep cleaning after employees test positive for coronavirus, but these safety responses have not been sufficient.
“To date, more than 100 Amazon warehouses have reportedly had positive coronavirus cases, according to internal tracking by United for Respect. At least three Amazon warehouse employees have died from COVID-19, including a worker in the facility where Smalls was fighting for safety protections,” the letter argued.
Amazon tech and warehouse workers held “sick out” day protests over the week of April 20 to protest safety conditions in warehouses and fulfillment centers – more than 300 warehouse workers representing dozens of warehouses pledged to call out of work.
On May 4, an Amazon Vice President announced he had resigned “in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.
Amazon said in a statement that the workers were not fired for “talking publicly about working conditions or safety, but rather, for violating — often repeatedly — policies, such as intimidation, physical distancing and more.”
However, the nine Senators said that given the clear public history of these four workers’ advocacy on behalf of health and safety conditions for workers in Amazon warehouses preceding their terminations, and Amazon’s vague public statements regarding violations of “internal policies,” they are seeking additional information to understand exactly what those internal policies are, posing nine questions to the eCommerce giant.
Amazon said it was looking “forward to explaining in more detail in our response to the Senators’ letter.”