Five U.S. senators are calling on Amazon to explain itself after it fired a labor organizer who worked in the company’s Staten Island distribution center.
Led by Cory Booker of New Jersey, the senators, all Democrats, are questioning Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos over “the events that led to the” dismissal of Chris Smalls, a processing assistant who helped organize a walkout on March 30. Smalls and other workers alleged the company was mishandling the coronavirus crisis at the warehouse. Their demands included retroactive hazard pay and for the facility to be completely sanitized, after two workers tested positive for COVID-19.
In a letter to Bezos, the senators also pointed to the “smear campaign” that followed, citing leaked meeting notes attributed to Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky. From the letter (emphasis ours):
“Adding to our concern are leaked meeting notes from a meeting you attended, where top executives at Amazon designed a smear campaign to discredit the fired employee, describing them as ‘not smart or articulate,’ and writing that Amazon would ‘spend the first part of our response 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.'”
In addition to Booker, the letter was signed by Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Reached for comment, Amazon sent the following statement from spokesperson Kristen Kish:
“We did not terminate Mr. Smalls employment for organizing a 15-person protest. We terminated his employment for putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of his employment. Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines. 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. Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite further putting the teams at risk.”