Amazon fires two employees who were critics of its labor practices

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Environmentalists protesting outside Amazon’s shareholder meeting

Paayal Zaveri | CNBC

Amazon fired two employees late last week who were outspoken critics of the company’s labor practices, including, most recently, its treatment of warehouse workers during the coronavirus outbreak. 

The company confirmed to CNBC that it fired Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, both of whom were user experience designers, for “repeatedly violating internal policies.” 

“We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies. We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating internal policies,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. 

Amazon’s external communications policy prohibits employees from speaking about the company’s business without approval from management.

The workers said they were fired on Friday and believe the action was in retaliation to their continued criticism of Amazon, according to The Washington Post, which first reported on the news Tuesday. 

Cunningham acknowledged her firing in a series of tweets late Monday and voiced support for Amazon warehouse workers who have demanded greater protections from the company amid the pandemic. Costa has also publicly shown support for warehouse employee advocacy groups, recently tweeting that she would donate $500 to support fulfillment center workers on the front lines. 

Both of the employees are members of an employee advocacy group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which has called for the company to develop a comprehensive climate change plan, among other environmental initiatives. At Amazon’s shareholder meeting last year, Cunningham called for Amazon reduce its use of fossil fuels. Costa and Cunningham also appeared in a video with Sen. Bernie Sanders, a frequent Amazon critic, to criticize Amazon’s climate stance.

Amazon previously threatened to fire Costa and Cunningham if they continued to violate the company’s external communications policy. The policy has been a subject of criticism from employees. In January, more than 340 Amazon employees signed onto a letter in protest of the policy. In response, Amazon said it would not continue to enforce the policy and not “allow enforce employees to publicly disparage or misrepresent the company.” 

The company’s labor practices have attracted attention in recent weeks as warehouse workers have staged protests at Amazon facilities in Staten Island, New York; Detroit; and Illinois. Amazon drew further criticism after it fired a Staten Island, New York warehouse worker who organized a strike to demand greater protections for employees amid the coronavirus outbreak. Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the facility, said he was fired for organizing the strike, but Amazon said it fired Smalls because he violated social distancing rules while he was supposed to be under quarantine after being exposed to a coworker who tested positive for the coronavirus.

In addition to growing concerns from warehouse workers, Amazon has also faced criticism from union officials and legislators about a lack of protective measures for employees who continue to work during the coronavirus outbreak.

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