New York Attorney General Scrutinizes Amazon for Firing Warehouse Worker

SEATTLE — Amazon may have violated federal worker safety laws and New York State’s whistle-blower protections when it fired an employee from its Staten Island warehouse who protested the company’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a letter the office of the New York attorney general, Letitia James, sent the company last week.

The case that Ms. James’s office has been looking into involves Christopher Smalls, an employee in Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse. In late March, Mr. Smalls agitated for more worker protections at the facility as co-workers began getting sick. On March 28, Amazon put Mr. Smalls on quarantine for being in contact with a worker who had contracted the coronavirus.

The firing attracted even more attention when leaked notes from an April 1 meeting of Amazon’s top executives showed they discussed making Mr. Smalls “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.” One executive added that Mr. Smalls was “not smart, or articulate.” Amazon’s general counsel, who wrote the meeting notes, later apologized for the remarks.

Ms. James’s office has been in touch with Amazon since the incident. In the letter, the attorney general said Amazon’s safety measures were inadequate and might have violated provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The letter, which sought internal communications about worker organizing, also said there could be other cases of potential illegal retaliation.

Jesse McKinley contributed reporting from Albany, N.Y.