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New York Sues Amazon, Claiming Safety Violations At Staten Island Warehouse

Amazon worker protest at warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota

New York Attorney General Letitia James is suing Amazon, accusing the company of failing to protect its workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

“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 Wednesday after filing a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court.

In the suit, James alleges Amazon illegally fired workers who complained about its compliance with health and safety mandates. After launching an investigation in March last year, James' office claims Amazon didn't adhere to state laws regarding cleaning and disinfection protocols, nor did it conduct proper contact tracing or allow for employees to protect themselves from the virus.

“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," James said. "The workers who have powered this country and kept it going during the pandemic are the very workers who continue to be treated the worst. 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.”

Specifically, per a release from James’ office, Amazon knew that 250 employees at the Staten Island warehouse had contracted the virus, and 90 of those cases were at the location within a week of Amazon receiving notification. In all but seven cases, James claims Amazon didn’t close parts of the facility. She also claims the company didn't take the necessary steps to find out which workers had been exposed to the virus as a result.

James wants Amazon to “give up the profits it made as a result of its illegal acts” and reinstate and pay damages to two workers she says were illegally fired for complaining about the company’s handling of the crisis.

“We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees, as demonstrated in our filing last week, and we don’t believe the attorney general’s filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic,” Kelly Nantel, a spokesperson for Amazon, told Commercial Observer.

Amazon workers started complaining early in the pandemic they were being mistreated. Workers at the Staten Island facility staged a walkout in March, calling for the company to take action to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after workers began becoming sick. 

There were similar protests at other Amazon locations across the country, which have continued throughout the crisis. Overall, warehouse workers have filed formal labor complaints and lawsuits against their employers, alleging they have asked them to work while sick, have hidden coronavirus cases at facilities and not adequately provided them with protective equipment or enforced social distancing. 

Last month, Amazon distribution center workers in Alabama filed a motion to organize as a union, a move the company has worked to block. Voting to certify the union is ongoing.