New York Sues Amazon, Saying It Inadequately Protected Staff From Covid-19

New York attorney general Letitia James sued Amazon Tuesday night on the grounds that the company provided inadequate security protection to New York City workers during the pandemic and resisted employees who raised concerns about the conditions.

The case focuses on two Amazon facilities: a large warehouse on Staten Island and a delivery depot in Queens. Ms. James argues that Amazon failed to properly clean its buildings, carried out inadequate contact tracing on known Covid-19 cases, and “took swift retaliatory measures” to silence complaints from workers.

“Amazon’s extreme profits and exponential growth rate were at the expense of the life, health and safety of its frontline workers,” argued Ms. James in the complaint filed with the New York Supreme Court.

Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the company was “very concerned about the health and safety” of its employees.

“We don’t think the attorney general’s filing provides an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic,” Ms. Nantel said.

Last week, Amazon sued Ms. James in federal court to prevent her from bringing the charges. The company argued that workplace safety was a federal, not a state, issue.

Updated

Apr 16, 2021 at 10:43 am ET

In its 64-page complaint last week, Amazon said its security measures “go well beyond what is required by law”. It cited a surprising inspection by the New York Sheriff’s Office which found that Amazon “appears to go beyond current compliance requirements.” The company also explained other security measures, including temperature checks and free on-site Covid-19 tests.

New York said in its lawsuit Amazon had received written notification from at least 250 employees in the Staten Island warehouse who had Covid-19. In more than 90 of these cases, the infected employee had been at work in the past week, but Amazon has not closed parts of the building to ensure adequate ventilation, as the state requires.

Ms. James said Amazon did not interview infected employees until at least the end of June to determine their close contacts, relying instead on reviewing surveillance footage, which could take three days and did not cover the entire warehouse. The lack of interviews “led to a very time-consuming process in which close contacts were not identified in a timely manner,” says the complaint.

She also argued that Amazon retaliated against Christian Smalls, a worker the company laid off earlier this year. Mr Smalls had raised safety concerns to managers and held a public protest in the parking lot of the Staten Island facility.

According to Amazon, Mr Smalls was fired for going to the construction site to protest despite being on paid quarantine leave after being exposed to a colleague who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Ms. James ‘file stated that two people from Amazon Human Resources had written to discuss Mr. Smalls’ situation. Staff said it was unfair to fire him for failing to enter the building and Amazon failed to tell him that the company’s quarantine policy prohibits him from being outside the facility.

Ms. James said Amazon had sent a terrifying message to others by firing Mr. Smalls and reprimanding another protest leader.

“Amazon employees reasonably fear that if they file legitimate health and safety complaints about Amazon’s Covid-19 response, Amazon will take revenge,” she argued.

The state said Amazon should change its policies, provide training, and undergo security surveillance and pay Mr Smalls lost wages and other damages and get him back his job.

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