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A Painful Reminder. A Moment for Change

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The e-commerce giant has fired workers who advocated for workplace health and safety. More fear they’re being targeted for speaking out. All warehouse workers who were fired by Amazon are Black.

NEW YORK CITY — On Thursday, more than 50 groups have signed a solidarity statement to condemn Amazon’s crackdown against whistleblowers and other workers who have spoken out against the e-commerce giant’s dangerous and unfair practices during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Workers have tested positive with COVID-19 at at least 130 Amazon facilities, although some estimates put the numbers far higher. On Wednesday, Amazon reported that North American sales were up 29 percent to $46.1 billion in the first quarter as the company’s website hit 2.54 billion visitors in March, a 65-percent increase over the same period in 2019.

“We are calling for an urgent expansion and improved enforcement of legal protections for workers who speak out and take collective action against dangerous workplace conditions that risk exacerbating the spread of COVID-19,” reads the solidarity statement, which was led by Athena Coalition, Fight for the Future, Free Press, MediaJustice, MPower Change and the National Employment Law Project.

Workers across the country have already reported receiving arbitrary work-related warnings for having spoken out or participated in walkouts, and they fear they are being set-up for termination. So far, all the fired Amazon warehouse workers who’ve come forward have been Black, a stark reminder of how they and their communities face the greatest health and economic risks during the pandemic.

In solidarity with these workers, the groups are calling for common-sense measures in line with CDC guidelines: implementation of six feet of distance between workers in facilities, personal protective equipment for all, time for handwashing, temporarily closing and cleaning of exposed facilities, independent and transparent reporting, and paid-leave policies to help exposed and sick workers stay home.

The statement coincides with a national day of actions, walkouts and strikes by Amazon and other essential frontline workers demanding health and safety protections on the job.

“While most of us get to stay home and wait out the pandemic, thousands of low-wage Amazon workers are showing up every day and risking their lives to keep Jeff Bezos’ facilities running,” said Sandra Fulton, government relations director for Free Press. “A disproportionate number of these frontline workers are members of Black and brown communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19. Amazon must do more to protect its workers of color, and recognize and reward their many sacrifices. Instead, it’s firing them for exercising their legally protected rights to organize and protest for safe and healthy working conditions.”

“Our public health and societal well-being require that workers have the power to speak up in these moments, to call attention to employer practices that create unsafe working conditions made more dangerous by the current crisis, and to refuse to work in deadly worksites,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “We cannot allow Amazon to retaliate against whistleblowers and silence a disproportionately Black, Latinx, and indigenous workforce, which, in the face of hazardous conditions, is courageously declaring ‘We will not accept this,” defending both worker and public health."

“Black and brown workers have always been essential for our nation’s economy and public health, but their voices are too often silenced,” said Myaisha Hayes, campaign director at MediaJustice. “During this crisis, Amazon and other employers are willing to make this ‘essential work’ a death sentence for Black and brown frontline workers. This blatant disregard for the safety and wellbeing of Black and brown bodies is business as usual for Amazon, who already profits from mass surveillance of over-policed communities through their partnerships with ICE and local law enforcement. On May Day, we stand in solidarity with Amazon workers who are striking, organizing, and taking direct action at the risk of their jobs because they understand what is truly at stake: the health and safety of their communities”

“People from across the political spectrum can agree on this: essential workers are our first line of defense against corruption, greed, and dangerous conditions that put public health at risk. Now more than ever we need workers to feel safe speaking out when they see their employers engaging in practices that could lead to loss of life, said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future. “It’s essential we put policies in place to ensure all frontline workers are protected and any violations of these protections trigger an automatic investigation. It’s the only way we’ll stop companies, like Amazon, from retaliating against whistleblowers and using surveillance to clamp down on workers self-organizing. Anything less is a threat to the safety of workers and the public at large.”

“Black, brown, Muslim, immigrant workers are already heavily surveilled in their neighborhoods and in their homes," said Lau Barrios, campaign manager at MPower Change. "Amazon surveilling essential workers and firing whistleblowers who are bringing to light the horrific public health conditions inside Amazon warehouses in the middle of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic is appalling—but unsurprising. Amazon is already a leader in powering surveillance and state violence, as they provide technology for ICE’s detention-deportation machine and partner with police departments via their doorbell camera, Ring. Amazon workers are organizing and taking unprecedented direct action to demand the bare minimum safety conditions because they understand and care about the health of our communities—not the richest man in the world’s bottom line. This May Day, it’s imperative that we stand with Amazon workers. Worker health is community health—and it’s absolutely a racial justice issue.”

In recent weeks, a slew of stories have revealed the appalling extent of Amazon’s disregard for its workers. In addition to firing workers who were outspoken against dangerous conditions at company facilities, top Amazon executives planned to smear one of those let go. The company has also shut down internal employee communications to prevent workers from organizing.

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