Amazon employees are preparing an organised action for a collective digital “sick-out” to protest the recent firing of two employees who raised concerns over conditions in the company’s warehouses and the lack of protections for workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice announced this week that it’s asking employees to call in sick on Friday, April 24, after Amazon terminated outspoken critics Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who were both members of the group. On that Friday, AECJ will host a livestream with Cunningham and Costa as well as warehouse workers who will share their experiences with working in Amazon’s facilities during the coronavirus crisis. In a blog post about the action, AECJ wrote that the firings were a “gross misuse of power.”
An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the walkouts other than to provide a statement on the firings.
“We support every employee’s right to criticise their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies,” the spokesperson said. “We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating internal policies.”
AECJ is making several demands of Amazon as part of the organised effort. In addition to calling for Amazon to reinstate willing workers who it fired, the group is asking the company to change its external communication policies; make permanent workplace improvements to its warehouse conditions, equity, and pay; and publicly disclose its protocols for tracking covid-19 cases among its warehouse workers.
The group is also asking Amazon to make commitments to climate-related initiatives, including by committing to zero emissions by 2030 as well as requiring Community Benefits Agreements for clean air and good employment opportunities at the company. Finally, the group is asking for Amazon to integrate Racial Equity Impact Assessments into its business decisions.
Prior to their termination, which was reported by the Washington Post earlier this week, Cunningham and Costa publicly criticised Amazon’s warehouse conditions—which have separately come under fire by U.S. lawmakers who say Amazon should be taking far more precautions to protect its workers than it’s currently taking. Amazon’s policies prohibit employees from talking about the business without executive approval, the Post said. At the time, both workers told the paper they were terminated over their criticism of the company.
Throughout the covid-19 crisis, Amazon has fired several employees who publicly castigated the company over conditions at its facilities. Those firings included Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the JFK8 facility in Staten Island who helped lead a protest over the issue.
In a leaked internal memo obtained by Vice News earlier this month, Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky detailed an apparent smear campaign against Smalls. In the memo, Zapolsky wrote that Smalls was “not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers.”