<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="A group of U.S. senators is questioning whether Amazon retaliated against whistleblowers when it fired workers who spoke out about health and safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.” data-reactid=”16″>A group of U.S. senators is questioning whether Amazon retaliated against whistleblowers when it fired workers who spoke out about health and safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="“Since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic began, Amazon (AMZN) has fired at least four Amazon workers who had publicly raised concerns about safety conditions in Amazon warehouses,” the senators wrote.” data-reactid=”17″>“Since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic began, Amazon (AMZN) has fired at least four Amazon workers who had publicly raised concerns about safety conditions in Amazon warehouses,” the senators wrote.

In a letter sent on May 6 to CEO Jeff Bezos, the senators argue Amazon has made “vague public statements” about internal policies to justify the actions taken against the employees. Now, the senators want details about those policies to understand “how the termination of employees that raised concerns about health and safety conditions did not constitute retaliation for whistleblowing.”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) all signed the letter.

Amazon defended its actions in a statement to Yahoo Finance, saying the workers were not fired for talking publicly but for violating policies “such as intimidation, physical distancing and more.”” data-reactid=”19″>Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) all signed the letter.

Amazon defended its actions in a statement to Yahoo Finance, saying the workers were not fired for talking publicly but for violating policies “such as intimidation, physical distancing and more.”

FILE - In this March 30, 2020, file photo, workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, N.Y., protest conditions in the company's warehouse. A month later, even after Amazon scrambled to provide masks and gloves and check employees’ temperatures, Amazon workers have continued scattered walkouts across the country to protest what they say are still-risky conditions in warehouses where workers have had the virus. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)FILE - In this March 30, 2020, file photo, workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, N.Y., protest conditions in the company's warehouse. A month later, even after Amazon scrambled to provide masks and gloves and check employees’ temperatures, Amazon workers have continued scattered walkouts across the country to protest what they say are still-risky conditions in warehouses where workers have had the virus. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
FILE – In this March 30, 2020, file photo, workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, N.Y., protest conditions in the company’s warehouse. A month later, even after Amazon scrambled to provide masks and gloves and check employees’ temperatures, Amazon workers have continued scattered walkouts across the country to protest what they say are still-risky conditions in warehouses where workers have had the virus. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

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

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The senators highlighted stories of several employees who have reportedly been fired for raising concerns about conditions in Amazon warehouses, including Christian Smalls — a former Staten Island warehouse worker who helped organize a March 30 walkout.

Amazon argues it terminated Smalls for repeatedly violating the company’s social distancing guidelines and a request to stay home for 14 days after possible exposure to the virus.” data-reactid=”32″>The senators highlighted stories of several employees who have reportedly been fired for raising concerns about conditions in Amazon warehouses, including Christian Smalls — a former Staten Island warehouse worker who helped organize a March 30 walkout.

Amazon argues it terminated Smalls for repeatedly violating the company’s social distancing guidelines and a request to stay home for 14 days after possible exposure to the virus.

“There was no real policy,” Smalls’ lawyer CK Hoffler told Yahoo Finance. “He was protesting [for] the need to have a real social distancing policy, so the last thing he wanted to do was violate the social distancing that the CDC [recommended].”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Amazon was “making it up as time just went on. Chris was pushing for policies that could be implemented so that the workers would be protected,” Hoffler said.

Hoffler told Yahoo Finance her client had requested the company provide protective gear including masks and gloves, and to shut down the facility for cleaning. So far the shutdown for cleaning has not happened, she said, adding that her client thought his request would be met right away in the company’s interest to maintain productivity.” data-reactid=”34″>Amazon was “making it up as time just went on. Chris was pushing for policies that could be implemented so that the workers would be protected,” Hoffler said.

Hoffler told Yahoo Finance her client had requested the company provide protective gear including masks and gloves, and to shut down the facility for cleaning. So far the shutdown for cleaning has not happened, she said, adding that her client thought his request would be met right away in the company’s interest to maintain productivity.

“I guess if you’re Amazon, you can just hire other workers,” she said.

Demonstrators hold signs as they listen to former Amazon employee, Christian Smalls, speak during a protest outside of an Amazon warehouse as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in the Staten Island borough of New York U.S., May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas JacksonDemonstrators hold signs as they listen to former Amazon employee, Christian Smalls, speak during a protest outside of an Amazon warehouse as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in the Staten Island borough of New York U.S., May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Demonstrators hold signs as they listen to former Amazon employee, Christian Smalls, speak during a protest outside of an Amazon warehouse as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in the Staten Island borough of New York U.S., May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

According to Hoffler, Amazon chose to demonize Smalls and come up with a false, race-neutral business justification for terminating him after his protest.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="“They say he violated time and time again the social distancing policy. What policy was there?” Hoffler asked. “And number two: where were the warnings? They say they repeatedly warned him. What warnings?”

The senators asked Bezos if Amazon warehouse workers and executives have the same termination and discipline policies, whether the company tracks workers’ efforts to unionize, strike or speak to the media and whether it tracks employees who take part in activities like walk-outs or strikes. They also want to know about how the company gives warnings to employees and on what grounds an employee may be fired.” data-reactid=”48″>“They say he violated time and time again the social distancing policy. What policy was there?” Hoffler asked. “And number two: where were the warnings? They say they repeatedly warned him. What warnings?”

The senators asked Bezos if Amazon warehouse workers and executives have the same termination and discipline policies, whether the company tracks workers’ efforts to unionize, strike or speak to the media and whether it tracks employees who take part in activities like walk-outs or strikes. They also want to know about how the company gives warnings to employees and on what grounds an employee may be fired.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Bezos is coming under increasing scrutiny in Washington. The House Judiciary committee, which is conducting a big tech antitrust investigation, recently asked him to testify over concerns the company lied to Congress in previous testimony. Several other lawmakers have written letters to Amazon with concerns about its behavior during the coronavirus outbreak. The Trump administration also put some of Amazon’s foreign platforms on the “notorious market list,” a move Amazon blasted as a “personal vendetta” against the company.” data-reactid=”53″>Bezos is coming under increasing scrutiny in Washington. The House Judiciary committee, which is conducting a big tech antitrust investigation, recently asked him to testify over concerns the company lied to Congress in previous testimony. Several other lawmakers have written letters to Amazon with concerns about its behavior during the coronavirus outbreak. The Trump administration also put some of Amazon’s foreign platforms on the “notorious market list,” a move Amazon blasted as a “personal vendetta” against the company.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The senators say they want answers from Bezos by May 20.

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at&nbsp;
@JessicaASmith8.” data-reactid=”54″>The senators say they want answers from Bezos by May 20.

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at 
@JessicaASmith8.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Alexis Keenan is a reporter for Yahoo Finance and former litigation attorney. Follow Alexis Keenan on Twitter&nbsp;@alexiskweed.” data-reactid=”55″>Alexis Keenan is a reporter for Yahoo Finance and former litigation attorney. Follow Alexis Keenan on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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