Amazon may have violated labor laws by firing worker involved in protest, New York attorney general says

New York’s attorney general said Amazon may have violated the state’s whistleblower law last month by firing a Staten Island warehouse worker after he went on strike to protest the company’s coronavirus-related safety practices, NPR reported Monday.

In a letter sent to the company last week, the state’s top lawyer, Letitia James, said her office’s initial findings “raise serious concern that Amazon may have discharged [the employee] in order to silence his complaints and send a threatening message to other employees that they should also keep quiet about any health and safety concerns,” according to NPR.

The letter said James’ office had learned that Amazon’s termination of the employee, Christian Smalls, had left other workers afraid to speak up, adding that: “this is a particularly dangerous message to send during a pandemic, when chilling worker speech about health and safety practices could literally be a matter of life and death.”

A spokesperson for the New York attorney general’s office declined to comment to on the letter but confirmed its existence to Business Insider.

Amazon has fired at least six workers in recent weeks who were involved in protests criticizing the company’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and is now facing multiple inquiries from the National Labor Relations Board about whether it unlawfully retaliated against workers who spoke out, as well as an investigation brought by New York City’s human rights commissioner concerning the same issue.

James’ office also expressed concern in the letter that the health and safety precautions Amazon has taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic have been “so inadequate that they may violate several provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act,” in addition to other federal and state workplace safety guidelines, NPR reported.

Amazon has come under fire in recent weeks from workers who say Amazon hasn’t done enough to protect them from COVID-19, with people testing positive for the disease in more than 70 of the company’s facilities.

Lawmakers have taken aim at Amazon over its workplace conditions and response to workers speaking out. Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, called on the company in March to take additional steps to protect workers, while five Democratic senators pressed the company earlier in April for answers about its reasoning for firing Smalls.

Amazon has been trying to balance the safety of its workers with increased demand for its services as coronavirus lockdowns worldwide fuel a surge in online shopping. The company said earlier in April it will add 75,000 more jobs after adding 100,000 roles in March.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

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