Tech and warehouse workers, activists, climate scientists, labor leaders, and politicians participated in a marathon protest Friday over Amazon’s firing of employees who criticized the company.
Two fired Amazon employees hosted the all-day virtual event, bringing in former coworkers and experts to discuss two key issues: climate change and the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon fired user experience designers Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham earlier this month for violating the company’s external communications policy. Amazon also terminated two warehouse workers in New York and Minnesota who were critical of the company’s coronavirus response.
Amazon says those workers were fired for “violating internal policies, including harassing a co-worker, social distancing, and other safety guidelines.”
Costa and Cunningham are leaders of the activist group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which organized the event. They called on Amazon to reinstate the fired workers, implement broader safety measures at warehouses, and commit to more aggressive sustainability policies.
Amazon is facing tough scrutiny in the wake of the firings from politicians, activists, and labor leaders. More than 50 of them sent a letter to Amazon on Friday demanding the workers be reinstated. Signatories include King County Executive Dow Constantine, State Sen. Joe Nguyen, and four Seattle City Council members. Council member Teresa Mosqueda and Nguyen spoke during the virtual walkout Friday as well.
.@SenSanders The allegation simply isn’t true. We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any & all internal policies. We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating policies. https://t.co/f6tU8Zkq5t
— Amazon Policy (@amazon_policy) April 24, 2020
The Seattle City Council is considering legislation that would tax Amazon and other companies with annual payroll expenses exceeding $7 million to first fund COVID-19 relief and later build affordable housing.
“The fact is that today all but a handful of our 800,000+ employees around the world came to work as usual to continue delivering on behalf of customers,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get the critical items they need in this crisis.”
As the virtual walkout was underway, Amazon announced it will extend its increased minimum hourly pay through May 16. The company previously added $2 per hour to its minimum wage and doubled overtime pay in the U.S. and Canada. Amazon says it is going to extreme lengths to protect workers from COVID-19, including temperature screenings, providing protective equipment, and increased sanitation.
The company expanded its sick policies as well, offering two weeks of paid time off to all employees who are isolating due to the virus and unlimited unpaid time off. Amazon has been reminding workers that the unlimited unpaid time off policy expires April 30, according to Business Insider and Bloomberg.
“In addition, we are providing flexibility with leave of absence options, including expanding the policy to cover COVID-19 circumstances, such as high-risk individuals or school closures,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “We continue to see heavy demand during this difficult time and the team is doing incredible work for our customers and the community.”