New York sues Amazon, accusing company of unsafe pandemic conditions

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New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Amazon Wednesday night, accusing the online giant of flouting legal requirements to protect employees from the spread of Covid-19.

The suit alleges that since March 2020 in two New York City facilities, Amazon refused to enact legally required measures to stop the spread of Covid-19, like cleaning protocols and contact tracing. The suit further alleges that Amazon did not properly disinfect and close facilities, enact adequate distancing policies or notify employees of exposure to the virus in a timely manner.

“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 announcing the lawsuit.

The lawsuit comes after Amazon filed a complaint last week against James to try to block the attorney general’s lawsuit. In its complaint, Amazon said James was trying to oversee business activities that were only subject to federal law — outside of her jurisdiction.

“Amazon has been intensely focused on COVID-19 safety, and has taken extraordinary, industry-leading measures grounded in science, above and beyond government guidance and requirements, to protect its associates from COVID-19, earning praise from health and safety officials and law enforcement officers,” Amazon’s complaint said.

Two facilities were cited in the suit: a Staten Island fulfillment center with over 5,000 essential workers and a Queens delivery and sorting facility with several hundred essential workers.

At the Staten Island center, at least 250 employees notified Amazon of a positive Covid-19 diagnosis, with more than 90 of those employees present in the facility within seven days of reporting being Covid-19 positive, according to the lawsuit. In all but seven of those instances, Amazon did not close any part of the facility

“At the time of these complaints, New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, and Staten Island had the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 diagnoses in New York City,” the attorney general’s announcement about the lawsuit said.

The allegations also include Amazon retaliating against employees who criticized Amazon’s policies faced retaliation. When one employee reported potential exposure and protested working conditions, he was fired — even as Amazon Human Resources employees indicated they disagreed with the termination, according to the complaint.

“Amazon took swift retaliatory action to silence workers’ complaints,” the lawsuit said.

The New York State Office of the Attorney General, through the lawsuit, is seeking changes in policies to prevent the spread of Covid-19, backpay and emotional distress damage for employees who say they were fired in retaliation for speaking up about the working conditions and Amazon giving up the profits made through illegal acts.

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