New York City to probe Amazon firing of warehouse worker

(Reuters) - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday he had ordered the city’s human rights commission to open an investigation into the dismissal of a worker at an warehouse who participated in a walkout.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks after the USNS Comfort pulled into a berth in Manhattan during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Amazon has denied wrongdoing in the matter, saying it fired the worker because he had put the safety of others at risk.

The dispute centers on a walkout by 15 workers on Monday at Amazon’s warehouse in Staten Island, New York, amid concerns over reports of coronavirus cases among the facility’s staff.

The total number of workers at the warehouse was not immediately clear.

De Blasio said he had ordered the city’s commission on human rights to look into an allegation the worker was fired after raising health and safety concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

“The allegation is because he spoke up for the safety of his fellow workers he was fired,” de Blasio said at a media briefing on the coronavirus. “If so, that would be a violation of our city human rights law. We would act on it immediately.”

The investigation concerns civil not criminal law.

Amazon has repeatedly denied the assertions of the warehouse worker, Christian Smalls, who organized Monday’s protest.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, says Smalls did not adhere to the company’s request that he stay at home for 14 days with pay because he had close contact with a person who had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

“Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk,” Kristen Kish, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an emailed statement.

“This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.”

In a prior statement distributed by Athena, a labor and activist coalition, Smalls said he would continue to speak out “until Amazon provides real protections for our health and safety.”

Letitia James, the New York Attorney General, had issued a statement on Monday calling the firing “disgraceful” and also asked the National Labor Relations Board to investigate.

Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Amy Tennery; Editing by Chris Reese and Tom Brown