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2020-04-14

In support of warehouse staff, Amazon fired two outspoken critics of its climate policies

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Amazon fires two tech employees who have criticized the warehouse conditions in the company

The workers were outspoken critics of the climate policies of the e-commerce giant and had previously been warned about commenting publicly on their business

Amazon has fired two employees who were outspoken critics of its climate policies and who, during the coronavirus pandemic, had publicly denounced conditions in their warehouses as unsafe.

According to Amazon and media reports, the virus has spread widely, infecting workers in at least 74 warehouses and delivery facilities nationwide. In response to this, some warehouse workers held small demonstrations.

One of the fired workers, Emily Cunningham, a user experience designer who is part of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group, had offered up to $500 for Amazon warehouse workers on Twitter to match donations. She said a "lack of safe and sanitary working conditions is putting them and the public at risk." Cunningham said she was fired Friday afternoon late Monday.

Maren Costa, a lead user experience designer who is also part of the climate group of employees, said she was also fired Friday. Costa has echoed Cunningham's criticism, as well as from groups supporting the activist warehouse workers, of Amazon's warehouse staff protection policies. Costa, too, offered to match donations up to $500 for warehouse workers via Twitter "while struggling to get our employer consistent, adequate protections and procedures."

Amazon fired the workers for "repeated infringement of internal policies," said spokesman Drew Herdener in a statement.

"We support the right of every employee to criticize the working conditions of their employer, but that does not come against any and all internal policies with blanket immunity," Herdener said.

Amazon's external communications policy prohibits employees from making public comments about their business without corporate justification and executive approval. Herdener previously said the policy did not allow employees to "disparage the company publicly or misrepresent it."

"They wanted me to be gone for a while because of how effective we were in getting Amazon to take leadership in the climate crisis," Cunningham said.

Costa also thinks she was fired for her outspokenness.

"In an attempt to silence everyone, they were targeting the most visible leaders," Costa said Monday evening.

In a video call, Amazon fired Costa while working at home, with her 13-year-old son in the next room. Following the call, she said that her son asked if she had been fired for her climate activism. He asked if she regretted it, when she told him she was.

"I said, 'No, I just didn't. Neither at all. I do this for you,"' said Costa.

Amazon fired Chris Smalls, a Staten Island warehouse worker, last month after he raised concerns about working conditions to several media outlets, including The Post. New York Attorney General Letitia James called the firing "disgraceful" and requested that the National Labor Relations Board investigate the incident, and five U.S. senators, including former Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) sent Bezos a letter raising concerns over the firing of Smalls.

Amazon said the dismissal was related to Smalls ignoring his manager's request to stay home after contacting a worker who tested the coronavirus as positive.

Amazon threatens to fire critics outspoken about its environmental policies Cunningham was a vocal critic of Amazon's climate policies, criticizing them at last May's corporate shareholder meeting. Subsequently, she condemned Amazon's work on social media and in news reports with oil and gas companies.

Amazon warned Costa late last year, who also denounced the company's climate practices, that she risked being fired for "speaking in a public forum about Amazon's business."

More than 350 employees engaged in a massive corporate communications policy defiance in January to support Costa and others, calling on Amazon for its climate policy, its work with federal agencies, and its attempts to stifle dissent in a Medium post.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted his support of those workers at the time for "courageously speaking out" and "telling Jeff Bezos to end his hypocrisy." Criticizing Amazon's warehouse policies, Cunningham and Costa joined a chorus of politicians, unions and others crying out for Amazon to improve workplace conditions.

Warehouse employees in Europe and the United States have been sounding alarms for the past month that the company was not taking sufficient steps to protect them from the virus. Workers complained about policies that push them to meet the rate per hour at which the company wants orders fulfilled, a practice that they worry discourages safe sanitary practices such as washing hands after a cough or sneeze. Others have complained about "stand-up" meetings where each shift starts with workers standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

Since then, Amazon has taken steps to address these issues, including giving masks to warehouse workers and checking employee temperatures as they begin shifts, sending workers home for three days if they register 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, the firm said.

Although she has lost her job, Cunningham said she has no regrets.

"I know I will be alright," she said. "These times will require that we be our bravest, our best selves."

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