In a move that may further add to the scrutiny it has already been facing, Amazon has terminated two more employees who criticised the working conditions in the e-commerce giant’s warehouses in wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa who worked as User Experience designers at the Seattle firm were fired after the two tweeted criticism of the company and offered to match donations to warehouse workers.
This is the second such instance, after an employee who protested in a similar manner, was fired last month.
Amazon, which has seen business grow manifold, has been under intense scrutiny for the working conditions of its warehouses that have remained operational amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The employee strength has in fact expanded by 175000, to keep up with demand as offline stores remain shut. While the work force is pushed to meet the per-hour delivery rate, employees have constantly raised concerns over absence of essential protective equipment.
Employees have alleged that the practice of social distancing is not being followed, with workers subjected to standing meetings where they stand shoulder-to-shoulder. The company has also been lethargic in terms of informing employees when colleagues test positive for the virus. As a result, employees have been joining the chorus of politicians and activists raising voices against these working conditions.
The tweets by Cunningham and Costa were not first instances of outspoken criticism from the employees. Last month, Chris Smalls a warehouse worker from Staten Island raised concerns about working conditions to several media outlets and was also eventually fired. While the company’s move was termed ‘disgraceful’ by New York Attorney General Letitia James, Amazon claimed that the dismissal was related to Smalls ignoring a request to stay home after contact with a colleague who tested positive for the virus. The national Labour Relations Board was asked to investigate the incident.
The company has fired Cunningham and Costa on the grounds of repeated violation of its ‘internal policies’. The e-commerce giant’s external communications policy prohibits employees from commenting on its business without corporate justification and approval from executives. Company Spokesperson Drew Herdener said in a statement “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”. He further added that the policy did not allow employees to “publicly disparage or misrepresent the company”.
Cunningham and Costa had previously raised voices about Amazon’s climate policies. Cunningham openly condemned Amazon’s work with oil and gas companies on social media and in news reports. A strong vocal critic, she criticised the company in a shareholder meeting last May. Costa was warned by the company that she risked being fired due speaking publicly about Amazon’s business. However, she managed to gather more than 350 employees in a mass defiance.
Along the same lines, a third employee Chris Hayes has been asked to not return to work after he circulated an invitation to a virtual discussion with warehouse workers on Friday. While Hayes had already handed in his notice and was set to leave on April 17th, he has been asked to not return after his actions on Friday.