Democratic senators question Amazon over firings of activist workers

Democratic senators question Amazon over firings of activist workers
© Greg Nash

A group of Democratic senators sent a letter to Amazon on Thursday questioning it over the firings of four workers who had spoken out about the company's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In order to understand how the termination of employees that raised concerns about health and safety conditions did not constitute retaliation for whistle-blowing, we are requesting information about Amazon’s policies regarding grounds for employee discipline and termination,” reads the letter signed by the nine lawmakers, including frequent critics of the online retail giant Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHuffPost reporter: Biden's VP shortlist doesn't suggest progressive economic policies Hillary Clinton labels Trump coronavirus executive actions a 'stunt' Michelle Obama, Sanders, Kasich to be featured on first night of Democratic convention: report MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump is fighting the wrong war Michelle Obama, Sanders, Kasich to be featured on first night of Democratic convention: report The Memo: Trump team pounces on Biden gaffes MORE (I-Vt.).

Chris Smalls was the first high-profile dismissal during the pandemic. He was fired after organizing a walkout at a Staten Island, N.Y., facility where a worker had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

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Amazon confirmed this week that another worker at the facility, known as JFK8, died of the disease.

Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, members of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group that protested the company's climate policies, were fired in early April after criticizing warehouse conditions on Twitter.

Bashir Mohammed was fired the same weekend as the two tech designers after organizing workers at a Minnesota warehouse for more rigorous cleaning and safety.

A spokesperson for Amazon said in a statement to The Hill that "[t]hese individuals were not terminated for talking publicly about working conditions or safety, but rather, for violating—often repeatedly—policies, such as intimidation, physical distancing and more."

"We support every employees’ right to criticize or protest their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies," they continued. "We look forward to explaining in more detail in our response to the Senators’ letter.”

The lawmakers are pressing for more information about the reasons behind the dismissals.

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"Given the clear public history of these four workers' advocacy on behalf of health and safety conditions for workers in Amazon warehouses preceding their terminations, and Amazon's vague public statements regarding violations of 'internal policies,' we are seeking additional information to understand exactly what those internal policies are," the senators wrote.

The lawmakers also asked Amazon if it has been tracking unionization efforts of employees who have participated in protests or spoken to reporters.

The questioning from lawmakers comes the same week that Tim Bray, a vice president and senior engineer at Amazon Web Services, announced his resignation over the firings.

--Updated at 5:15pm