Workers’ Rights Attorney CK Hoffler and Famed Civil Rights Leaders Join the Fight
Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., Rainbow Push Coalition and Other Coalition Partners Stand in Solidarity with Chris Smalls in his effort to hold Amazon accountable for Allegedly Failing to Protect its Employees against COVID-19
Former Amazon employee Chris Smalls challenged the company for unsafe and unlawful treatment of its employees at the warehouse facility in Staten Island, New York. In March, Smalls raised complaints about egregious conditions at the JFK8 Fulfillment Center (JFK8) and brought national attention to the abuse of workers. Today Smalls announced he has hired CK Hoffler, a trial lawyer well-known for her success in civil rights, employment and complex commercial cases. Hoffler is based in Atlanta, Georgia and will lead and coordinate Smalls’ legal, civil and human rights team against Amazon.
“I was a loyal worker and gave my all to Amazon until I was unceremoniously terminated and tossed aside like yesterday’s trash because I insisted that Amazon protect its dedicated workers from COVID-19,” said Smalls who had been employed at Amazon for 4 1⁄2 years before the termination. “I just wanted Amazon to provide basic protective gear to the workers and sanitize the workplace.”
Smalls described conditions at the JFK8 24-hour warehouse facility as an unhealthy environment where men and women work side-by-side and carry out very strenuous manual labor in close quarters. Not only were employees at risk, but they were also concerned for their families. As a result, Smalls organized a protest, and continues to protest Amazon’s practices. His protest unites workers around the world. “Amazon treated us unfairly. A safe, healthy work environment is what we deserve; it’s our right. Coronavirus is a killer. To deny employees a safe place to work when we are all facing this virus is simply unjust. I’m proud to have leaders in civil rights and human rights join me in this fight. I never thought in my wildest dreams that my demands would ultimately ignite a movement for workers nationally and globally”, said Smalls.
This week another 30 people at the Carteret, New Jersey facility tested positive and have the virus. Ironically, that is where Smalls began his career with Amazon. “People are at risk of dying and are afraid because they need to work to feed their families. Most of the workers in the New York facilities are Black and Brown,” said Smalls.
Smalls began his career as an entry level warehouse employee and was promoted to a supervisory position, almost doubling his salary. “Although my journey at Amazon was not always easy, I took pride in my work and was promoted with exemplary job performance. ” All that changed in March when Smalls raised concerns to the human resources department at JFK8 after learning of the spread of the disease in other facilities. As there are no unions at Amazon, Chris quickly became the liaison between management and employees. As more Amazon workers became infected nationwide and when his colleagues also tested positive for the virus, Smalls escalated his complaints to management. However, management did not comply with Smalls demands for safe workplace conditions, hand sanitizers, masks and other protective procedures. “It became clear that Amazon just didn’t care about its workers and was willing to expose us to a contagious disease without basic protections and policies to protect us,” said Smalls. He reported Amazon’s activities to various government agencies including the United States Department of Health, the City of New York Department of Health, the New York Attorney General’s office, among others.
Currently, the New York State Office of the Attorney General is investigating Smalls’ whistleblower claims.
“Amazon’s reckless disregard of Chris Smalls’ civil rights and human rights are also at issue. His claims are so broad and yet laser focused. From discrimination to retaliation for his whistleblower activities, Amazon has done irreparable harm to Chris, his family and so many others,” said Hoffler. “New York is at the epicenter of this disease, but the story has yet to be told about the countless workers like Chris who tried to get their employers to do the right thing by protecting their employees, to no avail. Instead, Chris Smalls was wrongfully terminated. That’s not right and Amazon needs to be held accountable.”
Famed civil rights icon Reverend Jesse Jackson and Rainbow Push Coalition are also supporting Smalls’ fight against Amazon. “I have spent my entire career fighting against the type of oppression that Chris and his fellow workers experienced at JFK8 and around the world,” said Jackson, the legendary civil rights leader. “It’s a shame that Amazon would not protect its workers and laborers, exposing them to one of the deadliest enemies in modern history—COVID-19. It’s not right and I applaud Chris for his courage under fire. We, too, stand in solidarity with him in this journey. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities on so many levels, from warehouses to jailhouses. It’s an invisible enemy that is killing our communities. Chris’ case is a classic example of how corporate greed and insensitivity can literally expose communities to untold and unnecessary risks. We must continue to fight for the voiceless who can’t fight for themselves because of their circumstances.”
Other organizations coalesced in support of Smalls and are lending their support to his legal challenges. Many perceive Chris Smalls ’ case as perhaps one of the more egregious examples of Amazon’s unlawful workplace practices.
Amazon’s unfair practices are not limited to employees at United States’ facilities. Amazon recently lost a labor union case in France for similar unfair and unlawful labor practices connected to COVID-19. “Chris Smalls stands in solidarity with his fellow workers in Europe, Asia, Canada and Africa,” said Hoffler. Hoffler is also experienced in international law and practices in French and Spanish. “Amazon cannot simply shut down or silence people who are working in these horrific
conditions globally, and who are exposed to this deadly virus without proper protections and work policies. We are in a war against a pandemic and companies need to protect their workers.”
About CK Hoffler and the CK Hoffler Firm: CK Hoffler is a seasoned trial lawyer and the CEO of the CK Hoffler Firm, a trilingual law firm (English, French and Spanish) based in Atlanta Georgia. She specializes in commercial litigation, opioid litigation, catastrophic injury, civil rights, global commercial transactions, medical negligence, wrongful death and employment cases. Hoffler is licensed in 5 states including Georgia and Florida and is no stranger to complex and tough litigation, having sued large corporations, governmental entities and municipalities over the course of her 33-year career. To date, Hoffler (and her teams) has settled and received verdicts totaling over $800 million. She has represented thousands of clients that have been victims of negligence, discrimination and corporate injustice including baseball legend Roger Maris’ family, over 4,800 African-American and Latino civil servants in the State of New York, as well as the Reverend Jesse Jackson, to name a few. She is also Chair of the Board of Rainbow Push Coalition, the first woman to serve in that capacity. Hoffler is a frequent lecturer on all aspects of trial work, civil advocacy, civil and human rights and branding. She has also won numerous awards for her trial work, excellence in the profession and philanthropy. Hoffler is currently President-Elect of the National Bar Association (“NBA”), the oldest and largest national network of predominantly African-American attorneys and judges in the US, representing the interest of over 65,000 lawyers, judges, law professionals, and law students around the world. She will be sworn in as President of the NBA in July 2020. Visit the CK Hoffler Firm at www.ckhofflerfirm.com.
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