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Amazon Workers At Staten Island Warehouse Strike Over Coronavirus Protection

Source: Spencer Platt / Getty

Amazon warehouse employees in Staten Island staged a protest against the company on Monday over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In response to all of the criticism it has received from its employees, Amazon ended up firing the worker responsible for organizing these protests in the first place.

Chris Smalls organized an employee walkout to demand that the company close and completely sanitize the fulfillment center in Staten Island before re-opening its doors. Amazon reportedly told workers that someone at the warehouse contracted COVID-19, but Smalls thinks there’s likely many more unreported cases. As of now, there has been at least 21 Amazon warehouses across the country to have an employee test positive for the virus.

Smalls’ job was terminated after five years at the company for organizing the protest.

“Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe,” Smalls said in a statement through labor group Make the Road NY. “I am outraged and disappointed, but I’m not shocked. As usual, Amazon would rather sweep a problem under the rug than act to keep workers and working communities safe.”

Another employee, Derrick Palmer, spoke with  NBC New York, saying the lack of masks was a serious concern for all the workers. “This is a billion-dollar company. You guys need to provide us with masks, you need to provide us with gloves. Not doing that,” he said. “This company is essential, but I believe I my life is essential too.”

According to Amazon, though, Smalls wasn’t fired for protesting, but not adhering to company guidelines. They released a statement claiming Smalls continually violated the company’s social distancing guidelines and was fired because he didn’t stay home.

“He was also 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,” A spokesperson for Amazon told HuffPost. “Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk. This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.”

Throughout this entire pandemic, Amazon has been criticized continually for its response to COVID-19, with employees claiming they lack proper safety equipment to stop the spread of the virus. Since then, Amazon has said it will extend its employee benefits to offer extended paid leave options, along with increasing health and safety measures.

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