NY Sues Amazon for Lack of COVID Safety Measures

amazon worker in warehouse
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New York State Attorney General Letitia James is suing Amazon for being in violation of labor laws in the state, failing to provide adequate COVID-related practices.

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In the court papers filed yesterday, James says that 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 in its New York City facilities.”

The Amazon facilities at stake include a fulfillment center on Staten Island and a Queens distribution center.

“Amazon’s flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements has threatened serious illness and grave harm to the thousands of workers in these facilities and poses a continued substantial and specific danger to the public health,” the lawsuit claims.

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The attorney general began investigating Amazon in late March 2020, when she received several complaints from current and former Amazon employees. The allegations included “serious health and safety concerns in relation to COVID-19, as well as unlawful retaliation for raising health and safety concerns to Amazon,” according to the court papers.

The lawsuit also notes that New York State became the global epicenter of the pandemic, and as of February 14, 2021, New York has had over 50,000 reported deaths due to COVID-19.

Amazon workers were deemed “essential workers,” and as such, were able to continue working.  

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From April 2020 to the present, Amazon’s COVID-19 response remains inadequate, according to James. Examples include that Amazon still requires warehouse associates to clean their own workstations and equipment, while not being provided adequate training in how to use disinfecting products “in a safe and effective manner.”

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She says that Amazon does not provide these employees sufficient time to ensure they are able to properly clean and disinfect without impacting their productivity rates, and Amazon does not ensure that workstations are cleaned, sanitized and safe for workers on the next shift.  In addition, Amazon continues to fail to close its facilities when infected workers have been in the facility.

The company also continues to fail to allow employees to engage in adequate social distancing. “For example, Amazon requires multiple employees to enter trucks together and they are unable to socially distance inside the trucks. In other areas, workers are forced to crowd and are unable to adhere to social distancing due to the speed of and/or volume of packages on automated belts, the lawsuit says.

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Amazon continues to monitor productivity rates and “time off task,” and issue discipline to employees who fail to meet minimum metrics, without exemption for COVID-related hygiene, cleaning, sanitizing or social distancing measures. “Workers are fearful to take sufficient time to engage in health precautions because they are never sure if and when they will be subject to questioning and potential discipline at the discretion of their manager,” James says.

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“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,” James said in a statement.

Last week, Amazon preemptively sued James in the New York Eastern District Court. The court action, filed by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, contends that James is unlawfully attempting to subject Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center and Queens delivery station to state oversight related to COVID-19. 

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“Amazon’s efforts far exceed what is required under the law, and…go well beyond measures that the Office of the New York Attorney General has deemed comprehensive,” Amazon says in the 64-page complaint.

“Amazon strives to protect its associates as they continue providing a critical service to their fellow Americans. In order to do so effectively, Amazon quickly adjusted its processes and procedures, and designed and implemented numerous new processes and procedures, to respond to the novel and evolving threat of COVID-19,” the complaint reads. 

James addressed Amazon’s suit in a tweet on February 12, saying: “The legal action filed by Amazon today is a sad attempt to shirk accountability for its failures to protect hardworking employees from a deadly virus. We won’t be intimidated by anyone, especially corporate bullies that put profits over the health and safety of working people.”

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.
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