New York Sues Amazon Over Pandemic Protection For Workers

Amazon’s troubles in New York continue this week with the news of a lawsuit against it, filed by Letitia James, New York’s attorney general.

The lawsuit alleges that Amazon carried out ‘disregard for health and safety requirements’ and retaliation against employees who raised alarms

This is not the only pressure Amazon is facing. In December California Attorney General Xavier Becerra petitioned a court to force the e-commerce giant to comply with outstanding subpoenas over a state investigation.

Image credit: Amazon

State lawsuit

California accused Amazon of failing to adequately follow the state’s information requests as part of California’s investigation into its protocols and status of Covid-19 cases at its California facilities.

But on the other side of the US, the New York lawsuit claims that Amazon failed to provide workers with a safe environment at two warehouses in the state as Covid-19 infections surged nationwide.

“In failing to maintain a safe work environment by reasonably protecting workers from the spread of Covid-19, Amazon violated New York State Labor Law,” alleges the attorney general. “In addition, Amazon unlawfully fired and disciplined employees that objected to Amazon’s unsafe work conditions.”

“While Amazon and its CEO made billions during this crisis, hardworking employees were forced to endure unsafe conditions and were retaliated against for rightfully voicing these concerns,” said Attorney General James.

“Since the pandemic began, it is clear that Amazon has valued profit over people and has failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers,” Attorney General James said. “As we seek to hold Amazon accountable for its actions, my office remains dedicated to protecting New York workers from exploitation and unfair treatment in all forms.”

The New York Attorney General apparently opened an investigation into Amazon in March 2020 following ‘numerous complaints’ about the lack of precautions taken to protect employees in Amazon facilities.

This investigation was later broadened to examine whether Amazon unlawfully fired or disciplined employees who reported these safety concerns.

In particular, the investigation focused on two facilities with a combined workforce of more than 5,000 individuals –- JFK8, a fulfillment centre on Staten Island, and DBK1, a distribution centre in Queens.

Safety violations

And it is alleged that Attorney General’s investigation uncovered evidence showing that Amazon’s health and safety response violated state law with respect to cleaning and disinfection protocols, contact tracing, and generally permitting employees to take necessary precautions to protect themselves from the risk of Covid-19 infection.

It cited an example of Amazon being notified of at least 250 employees at the Staten Island facility who had positive Covid-19 tests, with more than 90 of those individuals present in the facility within seven days of notification to Amazon.

However, in all but seven of these instances, Amazon failed to close any portion of the facility after learning of the positive cases, the AG alleged.

Additionally, Amazon implemented an inadequate Covid-19 tracing program that failed to consistently identify workers who came into close contact with employees who tested positive for Coronavirus.

Pandemic response

There is no doubt that the pandemic resulted in a boom for Amazon’s business, with many households around the world forced into lockdowns.

But that came at a price, despite Amazon’s protection measures.

For example, Amazon built its own Coronavirus testing labs to monitor the health of its staff back in April 2020, when the pandemic was raging around the world.

But in October the firm revealed that nearly 20,000 staff have been infected by Covid-19, despite undertaking a large number of steps to protect its workforce during the pandemic.

This included Amazon taking the temperature of staff upon their arrival at work and spraying disinfectant on work stations.

Yet criticism has persisted, particularly about cleanliness in warehouses, and working conditions.

It should be noted that Amazon has already successfully fended off allegations over the alleged lack of Covid-19 protections.

In early November a staff lawsuit against Amazon over its alleged lack of Coronavirus protection for warehouse workers at the Staten Island facility was dismissed by a US District Judge in New York.

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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