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50+ Racial Justice, Civil Liberties, Worker Advocacy Groups Release Joint Statement Calling for Whistleblower Protections for Frontline Workers

Alarm sounded after Amazon fires whistleblowers organizing against dangerous workplace conditions that risk exacerbating the spread of COVID-19.

WASHINGTON - Today on May Day, 50+ racial justice, civil liberties, and worker advocacy organizations release a joint statement condemning the silencing of front line workers blowing the whistle on unsafe corporate practices during COVID-19. The joint statement calls for an expansion and improved enforcement of legal protections for frontline workers who speak out and organize for a healthy and safe workplace, as a matter of public health. 

The statement amplifies and supports worker demands for workplace health and safety standards in line with Center for Disease Control guidelines: implementation of six feet of distance between all individuals in the facility, personal protective equipment for all, time for handwashing, temporarily closing and cleaning exposed facilities to allow for quarantine, independent and transparent reporting, and paid leave policies to help exposed and sick workers to stay home. 

Since the COVID 19 outbreak, Amazon has fired six workers who spoke out and organized for these basic standards. Rather than implement necessary safeguards, the technology giant expanded their surveillance system to monitor worker interactions, which risks undermining the right of workers to take action on critical public health issues. 

The statement also speaks to the disproportionate number of Black and brown people taking enormous risks as frontline workers. It is egregious that all the warehouse workers Amazon fired are Black. Amazon's actions callously add harm at a time when many Black communities face higher COVID-19 death rates and are bearing the brunt of the economic and health impacts. 

The current crisis has elevated the necessity for workers to be able to speak out without retaliation to protect themselves, their communities, and the public.

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“People from across the political spectrum can agree on this: essential workers are our first line of defense against corruption, greed, and dangerous conditions that put public health at risk. Now more than ever we need workers to feel safe speaking out when they see their employers engaging in practices that could lead to loss of life, said Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future. “It’s essential we put policies in place to ensure all frontline workers are protected and any violations of these protections trigger an automatic investigation. It’s the only way we’ll stop companies, like Amazon, from retaliating against whistleblowers and using surveillance to clamp down on workers self-organizing. Anything less is a threat to the safety of workers and the public at large.”

“Black and brown workers have always been essential for our nation’s economy and public health, but their voices are too often silenced. During this crisis, Amazon and other employers are willing to make this ‘essential work’ a death sentence for Black and brown frontline workers,” said Myaisha Hayes, Campaign Director at MediaJustice. “This blatant disregard for the safety and wellbeing of Black and brown bodies is business as usual for Amazon, who already profits from mass surveillance of over-policed communities through their partnerships with ICE and local law enforcement. On May Day, we stand in solidarity with Amazon workers who are striking, organizing, and taking direct action at the risk of their jobs because they understand what is truly at stake: the health and safety of their communities” 

“Our public health and societal well-being require that workers have the power to speak up in these moments, to call attention to employer practices that create unsafe working conditions made more dangerous by the current crisis, and to refuse to work in deadly worksites,”  said Rebecca Dixon, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project. “We cannot allow Amazon to retaliate against whistleblowers and silence a disproportionately Black, Latinx, and indigenous workforce, which, in the face of hazardous conditions, is courageously declaring ‘We will not accept this,” defending both worker and public health.”

“While many of us get to stay home and wait out the pandemic, thousands of low-wage Amazon workers are showing up every day and risking their lives to keep Jeff Bezos’ unsafe facilities running,” said Sandra Fulton, government relations director for Free Press. “A great number of these frontline workers are members of Black and Brown communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19. Amazon must do more to protect its workers of color, and recognize and reward their daily sacrifices. Instead, it’s firing them for exercising their legally protected rights to organize and protest for safe and healthy working conditions.”

“Black, brown, Muslim, immigrant workers are already heavily surveilled in their neighborhoods and in their homes. Amazon surveilling essential workers and firing whistleblowers who are bringing to light the horrific public health conditions inside Amazon warehouses in the middle of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic is appalling—but unsurprising. Amazon is already a leader in powering surveillance and state violence, as they provide technology for ICE’s detention-deportation machine and partner with police departments via their doorbell camera, Ring,” said Lau Barrios, Campaign Manager at MPower Change. “Amazon workers are organizing and taking unprecedented direct action to demand the bare minimum safety conditions because they understand and care about the health of our communities—not the richest man in the world’s bottom line. This May Day, it’s imperative that we stand with Amazon workers. Worker health is community health—and it’s absolutely a racial justice issue.”

The signing organizations include: Access Now, Action Center on Race and the Economy, AI Now, Alternate ROOTS, Athena Coalition, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, Color of Change, Community Justice Exchange, Constitutional Alliance, Defending Rights & Dissent, Demand Progress Education Fund, Ella Baker Center, Fight for the Future, Free Press, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Global Action Project, Government Accountability Project, Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California, Just Futures Law, Line Break Media,Make the Road New Jersey, Make the Road New York, Media Mobilizing Project, MediaJustice, MPower Change, Muslim Advocates, National Employment Law Project (NELP), National Immigration Law Center, New America Center on Education and Labor, New America's Open Technology Institute, New York Communities for Change, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Open Markets Institute, Open MIC (Open Media and Information Companies Initiative), Partnership for Working Families, People Demanding Action, People For the American Way, PeoplesHub, Project Censored, Project On Government Oversight, Public Citizen, RootsAction.org, RYSE Center, Secure Justice, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP). The Awood Center, The Civil Liberties Defense Center, The Tully Center for Free Speech, United for Respect, United We Dream, Warehouse Worker Resource Center, Whistleblower & Source Protection, Program at ExposeFacts, Woodhull Freedom Foundation, XLab.

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