Amazon fires yet another warehouse employee who protested against working conditions


Gerald Bryson, an Amazon warehouse worker in Staten Island, was fired last week. He was involved in two protests against the company in the past month.

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Amazon, which continues to endure intense criticism for its treatment of warehouse workers during the coronavirus pandemic, has taken another step deeper into the controversy. The company on Friday fired another warehouse employee who protested against the company’s working conditions.

Gerald Bryson, an Amazon warehouse employee in Staten Island, told CNET on Tuesday that he was terminated for vulgar language. Also, Derrick Palmer, who has also organized protests at the same facility and has been one of the more outspoken critics of his employer, said he was given a final write-up for violating social distancing protocols but continues to be employed by the company.

“It was just retribution for me organizing and protesting,” said Bryson, a 50-year-old Staten Island resident who’s worked for Amazon for the past year and a half. “I’m disgusted. I feel violated.”

Amazon said Bryson was witnessed bullying and demeaning a fellow employee onsite on the day of a protest. The company conducted an investigation and collected witness statements from six other employees. Bryson also admitted to his actions and language, the company said.

“We respect the rights of employees to protest and recognize their legal right to do so, but these rights do not provide blanket immunity against bad actions, including those that harass, discriminate against or intimidate another employee,” Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said in a statement. “Amazon has a strict, zero tolerance policy on any kind of harassment, discrimination, intimidation or inappropriate language toward another employee.”

Bryson’s termination and Palmer’s disciplining follow similar actions by Amazon directed at employees who have spoken out against the company during the health crisis. Last week, the company confirmed it fired three activist employees: tech workers Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, as well as Minnesota warehouse worker Bashir Mohamed. Last month, it fired Christian Smalls, who also helped organize the Staten Island demonstrations, and Courtney Bowden, a Pennsylvania worker who pushed for paid time off for part-time workers.

Samir Qaisar, a Chicago warehouse worker, told The Wall Street Journal last week that he and two other workers received official write-ups after protesting working conditions. As with Palmer, Qaisar said he was given a final write-up for breaking social distancing rules without receiving any prior warnings.

The terminations come as Amazon faces heightened pressure from its workforce during the coronavirus outbreak, with workers already organizing a handful of demonstrations around the country to call for safer working conditions. Many of these workers fear that their warehouses are potential breeding grounds for the virus and that they could ultimately spread it to their families and Amazon customers. Amazon says it has many procedures in place to keep these workplaces safe.

This week, a larger nationwide protest has been planned, with 300 Amazon employees from 50 facilities signing up to “call out sick” from their jobs. Amazon said more than 250,000 people came to work Tuesday, even more than last week, and said participation in the demonstrations was “grossly exaggerated.” Additionally, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice plans its own sick-out on Friday, following the firings of Cunningham and Costa, who were both active members of their group. 

At the same time, Amazon is under pressure to meet the surge in online orders from customers who are mandated to stay home. The company is busy adding to its workforce, having already completed a hiring spree of 100,000 workers. Last week, it announced another round to hire 75,000 additional employees.

Amazon has often defended these firings by saying it respects workers’ rights to protest but says they aren’t offered “blanket immunity against any and all internal policies.” For instance, Smalls was fired after violating a company-mandated and paid quarantine order. Costa and Cunningham were fired for “repeatedly violating internal policies,” Amazon said last week, though didn’t offer more specifics on what those policies were.

Also, the company says it’s worked hard to protect its warehouse workers, conducting temperature checks, offering masks and gloves and continually cleaning facilities. Despite those efforts, local and national reports have been published about dozens of coronavirus infections at Amazon warehouses.

Several other major companies have struggled with similar difficulties of protecting employees while keeping business running. Those include Walmart, grocers and meatpacking facilities.

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Palmer and Bryson said they wanted to publicly protest after an employee at their facility contracted the virus last month and management initially didn’t tell workers. They called for the warehouse to be shut down for several days for a full cleaning, with employees being paid during that time.

They organized two protests, one at the end of March along with Smalls, who was fired later that day. Bryson and Palmer organized a second protest a week later, and Bryson was suspended for a week soon after then terminated. Palmer was written up after the protests.

Since then, the warehouse has not been shut down, and Bryson, who has taken time off in recent weeks, said more employees have gotten sick at the facility.

Palmer, 31, who lives in Elizabeth, New Jersey, said Amazon’s management is retaliating against these workers to tamp down negative statements about the company. He said he continues to go into work, but decided to work shortened hours. He added he’s now under heavy scrutiny by management.

“They’ve never been put out there as much as they’ve been recently,” he said. “They are doing it out of fear, they’re scared of what’s going to be exposed next. The only way they can avoid that is by getting rid of everyone who speaks out.”

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