Amazon.com Inc. is hitting back at activists within its own ranks, terminating three employees who criticized working conditions in its warehouses.
The retailer confirmed Tuesday that it had fired Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa for violating company policy. The two employees, who worked at Seattle headquarters, had taken to Twitter recently to voice concerns about the treatment of workers during the coronavirus pandemic; they’ve also long been involved in an employee campaign urging Amazon to do more to fight climate change. A third employee, Bashir Mohamed, who worked in a warehouse in Minnesota, was also fired. The Washington Post and BuzzFeed News reported earlier on the firings, which took place last week.
U.S. senators, labor leaders and some of Amazon’s own workers have expressed concern that the company hasn’t been doing enough to keep employees safe as coronavirus infection cases pop up in dozens of facilities in the U.S. and Europe. Groups of workers have staged walkouts at Amazon warehouses in New York, Illinois and Michigan.
Amazon said the two employees at its headquarters had been fired for violating its policy prohibiting employees from speaking publicly about company matters.
“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,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating internal policies.”
The company has also defended its work to keep warehouses safe, saying it’s following public-health guidance to limit employee contact in its facilities and supporting employees diagnosed with the disease. Amazon has offered temporary raises and more lucrative overtime to warehouse employees working during the pandemic.
Cunningham and Costa were outspoken leaders in Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. Cunningham, a user-experience designer, spoke on behalf of the group at Amazon’s 2019 shareholder meeting. Both were also among the workers who in January defied a stricter Amazon corporate policy on employees speaking in public without authorization.
“I truly believe Amazon can play an incredibly powerful and good role during COVID-19,” Cunningham said in a statement released by the employee group. “But to do that, we have to really listen to the workers who are on the front line, who don’t feel adequately protected. Who fear getting coronavirus, or giving it to their families and the wider public.”
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, called the firings “outrageous” on Twitter. “Amazon needs to stop retaliating and start making sure employees are safe, working in sanitary conditions with proper protections,” he said.
Trumka was among the signatories of a letter that leaders of the largest U.S. labor groups, joined by New York elected officials, sent Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos criticizing the company’s decision to fire Chris Smalls, who led a walkout at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse. The company said he was terminated for violating a company-ordered quarantine after coming into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
Amazon on Tuesday also confirmed it had dismissed Mohamed. Kristen Kish, a company spokeswoman, said Amazon respected his right to protest. “This individual was terminated as a result of progressive disciplinary action for inappropriate language, behavior and violating social distancing guidelines.”