'Disgraceful': Amazon Fires Walkout Organizer

Company claims he visited warehouse after possible exposure to COVID-19
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 1, 2020 4:25 PM CDT
'Disgraceful': Amazon Fires Walkout Organizer
Chris Smalls, center, wears a bandana while leading workers in a protest at Amazon's fulfillment center in Staten Island, NY, calling for the company to improve working conditions, on Monday.   (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Amazon says it fired an employee at its Staten Island warehouse after "multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines." But Bill de Blasio isn't so sure. The New York City mayor has asked the city's human rights commissioner to investigate Christian Smalls' claim that he was actually fired for organizing Monday's walkout at the warehouse known as JKF8, where at least one person has tested positive for COVID-19. "I've ordered the city's commission on human rights to investigate Amazon immediately to determine if that's true," de Blasio said Tuesday, per CNBC. "If so, that would be a violation of our city's human rights law and we would act on it immediately." He added the NYC Sheriff's Office had inspected JFK8 to ensure it was following social distancing guidelines and would "continue to inspect as needed."

New York state Attorney General Letitia James called the firing "disgraceful" on Monday and demanded the National Labor Relations Board investigate, though a rep said it could only do so after receiving a charge. Amazon has defended itself, saying Smalls violated an order to stay in quarantine after close contact with the associate who fell ill. "Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite on [Monday], further putting the teams at risk,” a spokesperson tells CNBC. But Smalls argues he was only ordered to stay home in an effort to prevent the walkout. "For them to even say that is just ridiculous," he counters, per ABC News, noting he was fired over the phone two hours after the walkout finished, though employees typically receive verbal and written warnings before termination. "We all know this is retaliation," he says. (More Amazon stories.)

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