Amazon says it fired Minnesota organizer for... not 'social distancing'

Bashir Mohamed's termination is among three recent firings of employees critical of Amazon's workplace policies.

Bashir Mohamed's termination is among three recent firings of employees critical of Amazon's workplace policies. Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

In mid-December 2018, about 100 workers at Amazon’s Shakopee facility walked out on their jobs and started a movement.

That protest was thought to be the first of its kind at an Amazon facility on this side of the Atlantic, and it didn’t stop there. As strikes and demonstrations racked up across the state, Minnesota suddenly found itself at the heart of a labor advocacy movement, one led predominantly by East African immigrants.

Last week, one of the workers involved in this labor movement, 28-year-old Bashir Mohamed, was fired. Mohamed told BuzzFeed he believed it was retaliation for organizing workers, including pushing for better cleaning practices to protect against the spread of coronavirus.

“Amazon, however, told him that he was terminated because he refused to speak to his supervisor,” BuzzFeed said. “Mohamed did not deny that allegation, though he accused his supervisor of treating him unfairly.”

A fellow worker at Mohamed’s facility, who remained unnamed in the piece, also told BuzzFeed he believed Amazon was targeting workers involved with the walkouts and slowdowns they’d been conducting over the course of the year. With social distancing protocols in place in the crowded warehouses, the source said, there are new reasons for management to punish or dismiss organizers.

When City Pages reached out for comment, Amazon spokesperson Kristen Kish confirmed Mohamed had been fired, but a statement from the company says he’d been terminated “as a result of progressive disciplinary action for inappropriate language, behavior, and violating social distancing guidelines.”

“We respect the rights of employees to protest and recognize their legal right to do so,” the statement said. “However, these rights do not provide blanket immunity against bad actions, particularly those that endanger the health, wellbeing, or safety of their colleagues.”

Kish added that the site hadn’t yet seen any confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Mohamed’s dismissal—along with those of two other public Amazon critics—was also covered in Reuters?on Tuesday.

“They didn’t like the way I was talking,” Mohamed told the publication. He said management focused on him after he started warning his colleagues about the virus and raising concerns about lack of cleaning efforts on management’s part. His dismissal, which he provided to Reuters, didn’t specify social distancing, but mentioned he’d declined to talk to some team leaders since early March.

The Awood Center, an advocacy group that helped organize many of the previous strikes, credited Mohamed as a force for good.

According to the New York Times, last month, more than 50 of Amazon’s roughly 500 United States facilities had reported cases of workers testing positive for COVID-19.