In Brief

Coronavirus: Amazon worker fired amid strike over protective gear

Calls for hazard pay after multiple employees test positive for coronavirus

Amazon has fired a New York warehouse worker who led a protest over safety precautions taken by the firm during the coronavirus pandemic.

Staff walked out of a New York City facility on Monday, demanding increased protective gear and hazard pay, after reports of multiple employees testing positive for coronavirus.

Chris Smalls, an assistant manager and organiser, learned that his contract had been terminated as dozens of workers protested. He told Vice News: “It’s a shame on them. To fire someone after five years for sticking up for people and trying to give them a voice.”

The Guardian reports that New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, said he has ordered the city’s human rights commissioner to investigate the dismissal. New York state’s attorney general, Letitia James, said her office was considering “all legal options” regarding Smalls’s firing.

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Amazon has defended the sacking, claiming in a statement that Smalls “had close contact with a diagnosed associate” but did not comply when “asked to remain home with pay for 14 days”.

Smalls alleges Amazon did not send him home until 28 March, three weeks after the exposure, The Guardian notes.

After US senators wrote to boss Jeff Bezos to express concerns over working practices, Amazon insisted it is taking extra precautions.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We are going to great lengths to keep the buildings extremely clean and help employees practice important precautions such as social distancing and other measures.

“Those who don't want to work are welcome to use paid and unpaid time off options and we support them in doing so.”

“Since the building won’t close by itself, we’re going to have to force their hand,” Smalls had previously told CNBC, adding that workers “will not return until the building gets sanitised”.

Amazon workers have also walked out in Italy, amid claims that “several employees working at the site” had to wear face masks “for days instead of having new ones each day”, according to a union representative speaking to Reuters.

Amazon said: “As customers use e-commerce as a useful tool for their social distancing efforts, we too have adopted specific measures within our sites so that our employees can respect social distance and work safely.” 

After workers at Instacart also threatened to go on strike, CNN said the industrial action “highlights a fundamental tension in the tech industry”.

The broadcaster added: “Business such as Amazon and Instacart are experiencing so much demand from customers wary of stepping outside that they have announced plans to hire 100,000 warehouse workers and 300,000 shoppers, respectively. 

“But the workers… believe both companies are not doing enough to protect them.”

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