Workers at Amazon’s Gary, Indiana warehouse (DIN2) allege that their employer, FAE Distributors, fired a delivery driver as retaliation for raising concerns about the company’s safety measures during the pandemic.
FAE Distributors is an “Amazon Delivery Service partner. ”Amazon describes the program like this: “DSP owners are responsible for hiring, training, developing, and retaining a team of 100 high-performing, hardworking employees, operating with up to 10-40 vans.” These companies are contracted by Amazon to deliver packages and must undergo three weeks of training to become part of the program.
Andre Kirk, an FAE delivery worker, told Motherboard that on April 4 he asked in the workforce’s public GroupMe whether anyone had tested positive for coronavirus. FAE’s owner Demoine Harvey told the chat that no one had tested positive, then in a private chat chastised Kirk, adding that it wasn't a group concern but "the entire world concern" so Kirk should direct all questions to him directly. When Kirk shared those messages in the GroupMe, Kirk was immediately kicked out and the GroupMe dissolved. Motherboard has reviewed these messages.
In a text sent to all employees later that day, Ralanda Harvey, Demoine’s wife and FAE’s Administrative Coordinator, said: "During a pandemic the group chat can not be used to cause discord or further invoke panic and fear...the integrity and culture of FAE is and has always been aimed at being positive, supportive, and encouraging. There is no room for negativity especially now. We have to stand together or we fall apart." Kirk was fired two days later, on April 6.
Amazon declined to comment. FAE’s Harvey told Motherboard “FAE Distributors was launched in July 2019, and is proud to have provided over 200 jobs for Indiana residents. Like all companies, we have standards that we expect our team to adhere to, and have zero tolerance for ongoing misconduct or any actions that endanger the safety of our team or community.”
“Incidents of repeated misconduct and/or violations of company policies are the reason Mr. Kirk’s employment was ended, nothing else,” Harvey said in an email. He characterized Kirk as a problematic employee that had been reprimanded numerous times over the past seven months, but Kirk challenged that line of reasoning for his firing.
“I was given multiple reasons for why I was being fired but for things I had, in the past, been reprimanded for and hadn't done since,” Kirk told Motherboard. "I was warned when I had gone just over our parking lot speed limit, I had brought scrap metal back in the car, again all things done in the past and warned about. These were bogus reasons, on top of the fact that they began the meeting saying this was 'at-will employment' and 'the relationship isn't beneficial anymore.’ Why? Because I called them out?”
According to workers at the facility, a co-worker had actually tested positive the day before Kirk had asked. After learning of the positive test, Kirk told Motherboard he asked a question in the GroupMe not only because it was a group concern, but also because he had pre-existing health conditions that he believed made him susceptible to COVID-19. On the day Kirk was fired, Ralanda said that "at this point there has not been any medical documentation of confirmed positive cases given to management.” It was on the next day, April 7th, that workers were notified of the positive test.
"I was also told that I was terminated because my Customer Contact Rate was too low, but the company wasn’t following CDC guidelines or providing us with PPE so how else do I avoid the virus?" said Kirk. "This was a group concern, but they fired me in anger instead of showing the empathy I'd expect from a manager or an owner. This is not okay. They're hoping that everyone remains quiet and scared, but a closed mouth doesn't get fed. People feel like their job is in jeopardy if they speak up, that their health is in jeopardy, and they're right."
Text messages shared with Motherboard show that FAE began to provide PPE and abide by CDC recommendations (initially released on March 9) around the second week of April—after Kirk has been fired and after workers learned of a co-worker’s positive test result for covid-19.
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Mia Kimble, a delivery driver who was personally told by the worker who tested positive for COVID-19 about their result, felt betrayed by the company’s handling of the situation: “The company likes to tell us we are all a family. Look at how they treat us and their actual family: the owner's daughter has not been back to work since their February vacation. From his own mouth, the owner told me his daughter wouldn't come back because of health issues—what about the men you keep on the schedule with diabetes or other illnesses that make covid worse? That's not how you treat family."
At the time of Kirk’s firing, Lake County—where the Gary, Indiana warehouse is located—had developed a coronavirus outbreak in early April that eventually led to the second-highest number of cases in the state. Despite this, workers claim that FAE continued to slowly and haphazardly adopt safety measures and public health guidelines that felt inadequate.
"I took this very seriously as I was in the medical field for six years, but from January to March, the company did none of the things recommended by public health authorities," Kimble told Motherboard. “By mid-March, there was still nothing! No gloves, no masks, no sanitizer, no PPE really. Then they gave us one rag and one Lysol bottle to wipe down fifty trucks!”
Kimble refused to return to work after growing frustrated with FAE’s slow response to the crisis.
FAE Distributors is one of Amazon’s many delivery service providers (DSPs), small third-party delivery companies that are contracted exclusively by Amazon. In interviews with over 40 delivery workers, a Business Insider investigation revealed that "missing wages, lack of overtime, intimidation, broken delivery trucks, and grueling shifts' were common thanks to Amazon’s perpetual expansion. As one former Amazon logistics manager told Business Insider, "DSPs are under such a financial pinch that they are not always taking care of their vans or making sure they are keeping up standards."
These working conditions are not limited to DSPs however—Amazon’s warehouse workers have held massive demonstrations protesting the company’s treatment of them. It is not a coincidence that Amazon warehouses have seen increases in cases.
“They do not care about our well-being, they care about our productivity,” said Kimble. "They had people calling us, promising there would be PPE if we came back, but it was a trap. Me and another worker had to sow masks for workers, does that make any sense? I’m sure the same thing was happening in the warehouse with Amazon’s own employees.”