Fifty workers at Amazon's Shakopee warehouse staged a walkout over the weekend amid complaints they are making about their employer's actions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Awood Center, a Minneapolis-based organization that represents East African workers, shared video and posts from the demonstration that happened overnight between Saturday and Sunday.
The protesters claim that one employee, Faiza Osman, was fired from her job for staying at home with her two children during the COVID-19 outbreak, and say that there have been "2 more" confirmed cases of the coronavirus among the workers.
The alleged firing of Osman has been denied by Amazon, which says she is still employed in Shakopee, but the group said that another employee, Bashir Mohamed, was fired for not following social distancing guidelines, even though they say management routinely ignores the same guidelines.
Mohamed spoke to CNN about his termination last week, saying he has been one of the organizers for better conditions at the warehouse and had distributed leaflets in February expressing concern to his fellow workers about the rise of the coronavirus. He claims he was fired as a warning to other workers, which Amazon denies.
The protesters are calling for the warehouse to be shut down for a deep cleaning amid the outbreak, and also claim the company is ending its unlimited paid time off offer starting May 1, which they fear will lead to more terminations.
It comes amid complaints by Amazon workers across the country, with The Verge reporting that the company allegedly fired six workers who called for better safety precautions during the pandemic.
The problem isn't just at its warehouses but also at its tech headquarters, where some of the company's white-collar workers have been complaining about worker conditions in Amazon's warehouses, per Grist.
Amazon claims allegations are 'unfounded'
In a lengthy response to BMTN, Amazon accused the group of workers in Shakopee of spreading "misinformation" and said the "accusations are simply unfounded."
It also said that Faiza Osman is still employed by the company, contrary to the claims that she had been fired. BMTN has reached out to the Awood Center for a response on this.
Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft said that the demonstration represents a tiny minority of the 1,000-plus employees at its Shakopee warehouse, and said it has implemented more than 150 "significant process changes" during the pandemic, including increasing pay, adjusting time off, providing temperature checks, as well as masks and gloves to workers.
It also rejected the claim workers had been fired for retaliation, saying the termination referred to in the Awood Center post occurred because of violations to Amazon's rules on social distancing.
Of Mohamed, Crowcroft said: "We respect the rights of employees to protest and recognize their legal right to do so; however, these rights do not provide blanket immunity against bad actions, particularly those that endanger the health, well-being or safety of their colleagues. These individuals were terminated for violating internal policies."
She added: "We’ve had some instances of employees intentionally violating our clear guidelines on social distancing at our sites, which endangers both the individual and their colleagues.
"Individuals who intentionally violate our social distancing guidelines will receive two warnings – on the second documented offense, termination may occur. We are taking intense measures to ensure the health and safety of employees across our sites who are performing an essential role for their communities during this crisis."
Amazon says that it will continue to provide its usual paid and unpaid time off benefits if they choose not to come to work during the pandemic, and has expanded its leave of absence policy to cover high-risk individuals and anyone affected by school closures.
It also says it places any worker diagnosed with COVID-19 into quarantine, giving them two weeks additional paid time off.
"Nothing is more important than the safety of our teams. Since the early days of this situation, we have worked closely with health authorities to proactively respond, ensuring we continue to serve customers while taking care of our associates and teams," Crowcroft said.
"We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC, and adding distance between drivers and customers when making deliveries."