Amazon has dragged its toes on Covid-19 employee security probe: Calif. AG

Amazon employees at the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island are calling for the facility to be closed and cleaned after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus in New York on March 30, 2020.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra seeks to force Amazon to partner with a month-long investigation into the treatment of warehouse workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the spring, Becerra launched a probe that examined working conditions in Amazon’s California warehouses during the pandemic. As part of the investigation, Becerra contacted Amazon on Aug. 19 for more information about data, policies, practices, and procedures related to coronavirus.

Becerra now claims Amazon did not respond appropriately to the office’s subpoena and is calling on a Sacramento County Supreme Court judge to order Amazon to comply. This emerges from a court file published on Monday.

“It has been almost six months since the attorney general’s first inquiry to Amazon,” the file said. “Amazon’s slow flow of information is an inadequate answer.”

Without adequate information, the attorney general cannot “adequately determine” whether the company is complying with California laws to protect its employees from the coronavirus.

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that the company has been working with Becerra’s office for months.

“We are confused by the attorney general’s sudden rush to court because we have been cooperating for months and their claims that they fail to meet their demands are inconsistent with the facts,” the spokesman said, adding that Amazon has invested billions of dollars Equipment and technology to protect employees from the coronavirus.

Amazon warehouse workers have routinely criticized the company’s response to the pandemic over the past few months, saying it failed to adequately protect them from the coronavirus. Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, have pushed back these allegations, saying the company has made “great efforts” to protect workers.

Amazon announced in October that almost 20,000 frontline workers signed Covid-19 between March 1 and September 19. The company said the infection rate among employees was 42% lower than expected compared to the general population rate in the U.S.

In the subpoenas, Becerra requested specific information from Amazon about its sick leave policies, cleaning procedures, and “raw data” on the number of coronavirus infections and deaths at its facilities in the state. Amazon provided the office with a “small amount of inaccurate information,” according to court records.

The attorney general “learned more from media reports and press releases than directly from Amazon,” added the file.

The information that the Amazon office has requested has become increasingly important as the spread of the coronavirus continues to accelerate across the country. The virus has now infected more than 16.4 million people, which has killed more than 300,000 people in the United States, NBC News reports.

“It is important to know if these workers are getting the job protection they are entitled to under the law,” Becerra said in a statement. “Time is of the essence.”

Becerra will play a key role in the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic after President-elect Joe Biden selected him to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

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