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As the coronavirus pandemic puts a spotlight on working conditions inside Amazon warehouses, the company fired at least one warehouse employee in Minnesota last week who was involved in labor organizing at one of its fulfillment centers there, according to two workers and other sources.
The fired worker, Bashir Mohamed, said that in addition to organizing workers to advocate for better working conditions, he had begun pushing for more rigorous cleaning and other measures to protect against the transmission of the coronavirus. Mohamed, who worked at the warehouse for three years, said he believes that his workplace advocacy is why he was fired.
Amazon, however, told him that he was terminated because he refused to speak to his supervisor. Mohamed did not deny that allegation, although he accused his supervisor of treating him unfairly.
A second employee at the Minnesota Amazon facility also told BuzzFeed News that he believed Amazon was targeting workers involved with walkouts and production slowdowns over the last year, in some cases by selectively reprimanding them for failing to comply with social distancing protocols at work during the pandemic. That worker, who was also involved in organizing, said he was written up for such an infraction last week.
He did not deny violating the social distance rules but said crowded warehouses make it hard to avoid. He said he fears he may also soon be fired.
Regarding Mohamed's firing, an Amazon spokesperson said, “We respect the rights of employees to protest and recognize their legal right to do so; however, these rights do not provide blanket immunity against bad actions, particularly those that endanger the health, well-being or safety of their colleagues. This individual was terminated as a result of progressive disciplinary action for inappropriate language, behavior, and violating social distancing guidelines.”
The move comes just two weeks after the company came under fire for terminating New York–based worker Chris Smalls, who was involved with a walkout at a Staten Island warehouse to protest alleged unsafe working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.
When Smalls was fired, Amazon said he had violated its policies by entering the fulfillment center, despite being placed in quarantine by the company due to potential exposure to the coronavirus. New York Attorney General Letitia James and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio both called for investigations into Smalls' termination last month.
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Amazon last week also fired Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two Seattle-based employees who were leaders of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group, the Washington Post first reported late Tuesday. Both had also been outspoken supporters for safer conditions for Amazon warehouse workers, most recently during the coronavirus pandemic.
Regarding Cunningham and Costa, Amazon said, “We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies. We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating internal policies.”
Amazon employees in Chicago, Detroit, and New York have staged walkouts and protests at Amazon facilities in recent weeks in response to what workers say is the company’s insufficient response to the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon’s business has surged as brick and mortar business closes and customers flock online for necessities. But workers worry that they aren’t properly protected from the contagious disease while on the job.
As of last week, more than 70 Amazon facilities had at least one employee who tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to the Athena Coalition, an alliance of advocacy groups that focuses on working conditions at Amazon.
The Minnesota fulfillment center was the site of the first major Amazon employee strike in the United States in July 2019.