New York state sues Amazon for failing to protect workers during Covid-19
By Rhonda Swan , February 19, 2021
New York’s attorney-general Letitia James has sued Amazon over claims it failed to protect its employees adequately during the coronavirus pandemic. The move comes days after the e-commerce giant accused the attorney-general of overstepping her authority.
The lawsuit filed in a New York state court in Manhattan on Tuesday involves two Amazon facilities in New York City that employ more than 5,000 workers. It alleges that Amazon’s drive for faster growth and higher profits led to its “flagrant disregard” of steps needed to protect workers from the coronavirus at a Staten Island fulfillment center and a Queens distribution center.
The complaint alleges that Amazon failed to disinfect those facilities when infected workers had been present; didn’t contact workers when they were exposed to the virus; and made employees work so much that they didn’t have time to disinfect their workstations or stay socially distant.
“Throughout the historic pandemic, Amazon has repeatedly and persistently failed to comply with its obligation to institute reasonable and adequate measures to protect its workers from the spread of the virus,” the court filing reads.
The suit has landed days after Amazon tried to pre-empt it through a lawsuit of its own seeking to block Letitia James from taking steps to enforce federal workplace safety regulations.
Amazon took the position that James threatened the company with a lawsuit “if it does not immediately agree to a list of demands, many of which have no connection to health and safety and have no factual or legal basis.”
The attorney general’s suit also accused the e-commerce giant of illegally dismissing an employee for publicly raising concerns about conditions.
Amazon fired Chris Smalls, a process assistant at the Staten Island facility, last year for protesting Amazon’s handling of the coronavirus. However, the company said he was fired for breaching Covid-19 safety protocols. They claimed that Smalls violated social-distancing guidelines and failed to self-isolate after coming into close contact with another worker who tested positive for the virus.
The New York AG suit is asking that Amazon change its policies to better protect worker safety, create new training and safety monitoring protocols, and pay lost wages and damages to James as well as offering to rehire him.
Amazon has seen its stock rise more than 50 percent in the past 12 months – progress that, for many, has come off the backs of low-paid workers, and served to further entrench Amazon’s position in e-commerce.
“While Amazon and its CEO made billions during this crisis, hardworking employees were forced to endure unsafe conditions,” Letitia James said.
Amazon has rejected all claims against the company and has vowed to fight the lawsuit.
“We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees, as demonstrated in our filing last week,” Amazon said in a statement. “We don’t believe the attorney general’s filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic.”