Amazon faces heat from federal labor board for alleged retaliation

Amazon workers in Chicago have filed complaints with a federal labor board, claiming they were retaliated against for speaking out against the company, according to a report in Buzzfeed News.

The Chicago employees filed charges against Amazon alleging they were retaliated against for protesting working conditions during the coronavirus outbreak, kicking off an inquiry from federal labor regulators, Buzzfeed News reports, in what experts say is an “unusual” move. The complaint says that Amazon targeted the workers specifically because they spoke out against the company and that the tech giant’s claims that workers violated social distancing rules are a ruse.

In a statement to Digital Trends, Amazon spokesperson Av Zammit said the allegations made by the Chicago workers were “simply unfounded.”

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our teams,” Zammit said. “Since the early days of this situation, we have worked closely with health authorities to proactively respond, ensuring we continue to serve people while taking care of our associates and teams. We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees, including mandatory social distancing, adding distance between drivers and people in the community when making deliveries, and providing masks for everyone to use, as we remain committed to keeping our teams healthy and safe.”

Zammit said Amazon has added new protections and benefits for workers since the coronavirus pandemic began to spread, including increased normal and overtime pay for warehouse workers and paid sick-leave for part-timers.

According to Buzzfeed, federal labor regulators declined to punish Amazon in one particular instance, saying the company’s conduct was unlawful but didn’t represent a pattern. However, the decision from regulators opened up the possibility for punishment if other valid claims against Amazon come forward in the next six months.

Amazon’s response to the crisis has been criticized by some of its workers as insufficient — and has led to allegations of retaliation. In New York City, worker Chris Smalls was fired after organizing a strike by workers at a Staten Island warehouse. Amazon claims Smalls was fired for violating orders to quarantine himself, which Smalls denied.

A reportedly leaked memo from Amazon detailed a PR strategy of shifting blame onto Smalls to make him the “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”

Two other employees were fired after being vocally critical of safety conditions at Amazon’s warehouses.

The two employees in question, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, were members of a worker’s group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and had tweeted about Amazon’s treatment of its warehouse workers.

An Amazon representative told Digital Trends at the time that they were fired for “repeatedly violating internal policies.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the incident Amazon was being investigated for. The inquiry relates to Amazon’s alleged treatment of workers in Chicago.

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