As the nation continues to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, many businesses are being put in between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they have to make money to stay alive and keep their employees happy, but on the other, they have to make sure that those employees remain safe and healthy. So those like Amazon, who carry out essential deliveries all over the county, are doing what they can to ensure proper social distancing guidelines, as well as doing lots of extra cleaning.
But apparently, that isn’t good enough for some people. Take Chris Smalls, for example.
Smalls, a management assistant at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, decided that the whole plant should be shut down after he came into contact with another employee who was later diagnosed with COVID-19. Smalls was put on a two-week paid sick leave to make sure that if he had, in fact, been infected, he would not spread it to others.
However, instead of staying at home as management had told him, he came back to work and initiated a protest/strike. He said that the walk-out was to force the warehouse management to shut down the entire facility and clean it from top to bottom. He also demanded higher wages for workers.
Now, there is nothing wrong with protesting, striking, or organizing a walk-out to get better work benefits and treatment. In fact, they have historically worked very positively for the working class, ensuring that management and company executives are not letting their power go to their heads.
But in this case, it might not have been the wisest course of action, either for the plant or Smalls.
As I mentioned, Smalls had been known to be in close contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus, meaning it’s highly likely he had it as well, even if he wasn’t showing symptoms yet. And yet, instead of taking precautions, being happy that Amazon was giving him two weeks of paid time off, he violated direct orders from the company, come back to work on Monday, and organized others to stand with him to shut the facility down.
Luckily for the Amazon work population, it was noted that only 15 workers out of 5,000 joined Smalls in the walk-out.
And not only did his planned walk-out fail, but Smalls was fired as well.
The New York Post reported that a company statement said, “Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came on site today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk. This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.” The statement added, “Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable. The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day.”
However, Smalls says his termination was not really about public safety but done as revenge for organizing the walk-out.
Obviously, if that were the case, it would be a direct violation of the law, as the right to protest is a constitutional one.
New York Attorney General Letitia James says she is looking into the case and calling the National Labor Relations Board to do the same, according to The Post.
And you’ll never guess who his most prominent supporters were: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and even Joe Biden.
AOC tweeted, “First Instacart, then Amazon, now Whole Foods: workers are withholding their labor & demanding dignity. When people work an hourly job, it’s suggested in many ways that you’re unimportant or expendable. Except you aren’t. Everyone deserves safe work, paid leave, & a living wage.”
And indeed, everyone does deserve those things. But not at the risk of infecting everyone else in the facility with a disease that could kill them. Besides, Smalls was already receiving those things. He was given time off, and it was paid. He was earning a living wage. And Amazon was already taking extra precautions.
The Washington Post reported that Amazon spokeswoman Lisa Levandowski had made a recent statement about “increasing the facility’s cleaning, encouraging safe distancing among its staff and checking employee’s temperatures as they arrive.”
The only thing more they could do is to lay off workers, putting employees out of work and its customers without the means to get essential supplies.
But it seems that is just what Smalls and his left-wing supporters want.