NY AG Seeks Overseer For Amazon Worker Safety

Amazon is once again in the crosshairs of New York state’s attorney general Letitia James, as she alleges Amazon has rolled back on its “already inadequate” Covid-19 safety measures.

And the attorney general has asked a US judge to appoint a monitor to oversee worker safety at an Amazon’s fulfillment centre in New York City, Reuters reported.

And on top of that, James is also seeking a court order to force Amazon to rehire Christian Smalls, the former staffer who was fired for allegedly violating a paid quarantine by leading a March 2020 protest over conditions at the Staten Island facility.

Image credit: Amazon

New York clash

It should be remembered that in February 2021, New York’s attorney general had filed a lawsuit against Amazon.

At the time Letitia James alleged Amazon “repeatedly and persistently failed” to protect workers at a Staten Island fulfillment centre (JFK8) and a Queens distribution centre (DBK1) – instead prioritising profits.

She also alleged that Amazon retaliated against Christian Smalls when it fired him for apparently violating a paid quarantine by leading a March 2020 protest over conditions at JFK8.

And this is not the only issue for Amazon in New York.

In October the Amazon Labor Union said workers from four sites in Staten Island had signed union authorisation cards after months of organising, giving it enough support to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

That union is led by Christian Smalls, the fired former Amazon staffer.

Amazon for its part, has always stated that Smalls was fired for repeatedly violating social distancing guidelines.

Fresh action

Now New York’s attorney general James has once again alleged that Amazon is valuing profit over safety and “acting as if the pandemic is over” by rolling back safety protocols even as the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus threatens to increase transmission rates.

According to Reuters, the alleged rollbacks include making the Staten Island facility “mask-optional” for vaccinated workers, while not requiring masks for unvaccinated workers, and failing to enforce social distancing.

In her motion for a preliminary injunction, James said the proposed monitor would oversee upgraded cleaning, hygiene and social distancing procedures.

“While case rates, hospitalisations, and deaths rise, Amazon rescinds protections and packs in more workers for its holiday rush,” James alleged in her motion. “Amazon’s ongoing – and worsening – failure to protect workers must be halted.”

Amazon response

Amazon said in a statement it has taken a “comprehensive approach” to Covid-19 safety.

“It’s disappointing that the Attorney General is seeking to politicise the pandemic by asking for ’emergency’ relief now despite having filed this lawsuit nine months ago,” Amazon said.

The Seattle-based company is appealing a judge’s refusal in October to dismiss James’ lawsuit.

Amazon meanwhile on 15 November reached a separate settlement with the US state of California over claims it violated a state “right-to-know” law by concealing from warehouse workers and local health agencies the numbers of workers being infected with Covid-19.

Amazon in October 2020 had revealed nearly 20,000 staff had been infected by Covid-19, but has not published any figures since.

But the e-commerce giant has undertaken measures to protect its staff, right from the start of the pandemic.

Amazon even built its own Coronavirus testing labs to monitor the health of its staff back in April 2020, when the pandemic began ravaging around the world.

It also introduced many protection measures for staff during the pandemic, but in the summer it ended its on-site testing of US warehouse workers for Coronavirus, despite ongoing infections in the United States.

Amazon also endured some flak on social media when it revealed plans to install “wellness” booths displaying videos about relaxation into its warehouses as part of its response to criticism over staff working conditions.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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