Amazon has fired two tech workers after they spoke out publicly against warehouse conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. User experience designers Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, both active members of the advocacy group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, had offered match donations up to $500 for warehouse workers, citing insufficient protections.
The company which had warned both employees about violating company policies earlier this year, confirmed the firings in a statement emailed to CNET. "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," an Amazon spokesperson said. "We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating internal policies.
Amazon on Tuesday confirmed it also fired Bashir Mohamed, a Minnesota warehouse employee who was involved in organizing worker demonstrations. BuzzFeed earlier reported on his termination.
Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish said in a statement that the company respects and recognizes employees' right to protest, but said health and safety concerns need to be considered. "This individual was terminated as a result of progressive disciplinary action for inappropriate language, behavior, and violating social distancing guidelines," she said.
Last month, the company fired New York warehouse worker Christian Smalls for violating "multiple safety issues" by defying instructions to stay home with pay for 14 days because he'd been in close contact with an infected employee. Smalls was a central organizer for a protest against working conditions at his Staten Island facility. His termination sparked an outcry against the company from advocacy groups and elected officials, who pushed to get him reinstated.
"Workers have every right to voice their concerns to management, especially if they feel their safety is being compromised. Amazon should do everything it can to listen, protect and support its workers." Sen. Bob Menendez, who has often criticized the company for its treatment of workers, said in a statement.
Sen. Cory Booker, a fellow New Jersey Democrat, and Sen. Bernie Sanders also voiced their concerns about the terminations. "Workers should be free to organize and strike for workplace protections without fear of being fired," Booker tweeted.
The Washington Post, a paper owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, on Tuesday reported on the two tech workers' terminations.
These firings come as Amazon's leadership struggles to get a handle on a series of simultaneous crises during the coronavirus pandemic, as the company tries to fulfill a surge in customer orders, maintain clean warehouses and respond to increasingly vocal workers raising concerns about their facilities' conditions.
Amazon is also pushing forward with a second major hiring spree to respond to this spike in demand, announcing on Monday plans to hire 75,000 more workers. Last month, it revealed plans to hire 100,000 people and said Monday it already completed that round of hiring.
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice sent out a press release saying the group on Friday invited fellow Amazon employees to join a meeting to discuss how the group can work with warehouse employees. Author Naomi Klein was slated to attend and the group said over 1,000 Amazon workers accepted the meeting invite within a few hours.
The group said Amazon deleted the emails about the meeting as well as the webcast invite. Costa and Cunningham were fired that same Friday. The two still plan on holding the event but have moved the invite to a Google sheet that's off Amazon's internal systems.
"Why is Amazon so scared of workers talking with each other? No company should punish their employees for showing concern for one another, especially during a pandemic," Costa wrote in the release.
Costa and Cunningham were warned about violating company policies as recently as January, with human resources saying they were speaking publicly about Amazon's climate efforts without proper approvals first. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice had shot back with a Medium post that included 400 Amazon employees showing their support for the workers.