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Attorney General Sues Amazon for Failing to Keep Workers Safe From COVID-19

An Amazon employee at work (Photo provided by Amazon)

Feb. 17, 2021 By Michael Dorgan

The New York State Attorney General Letitia James is suing Amazon for allegedly failing to keep its employees safe from COVID-19 – including workers at its facility in Queens.

James filed a lawsuit against Amazon Tuesday, accusing the tech giant of “repeatedly and persistently” failing to take measures to protect its workers from the virus since the outbreak began.

The lawsuit identifies Amazon’s DBK1 distribution center in Woodside, located at 1 Bulova Ave., and its JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island in the filing.

Amazon, in a statement, said that the lawsuit does not accurately reflect the range of efforts the company implemented to keep its workers safe throughout the pandemic.

The lawsuit claims that Amazon did not comply with state requirements for cleaning and disinfecting after it became aware that workers at the facilities had contracted COVID-19. Other requirements the company did not heed included not closing off sections that infected workers had visited and not increasing air circulation in those areas.

Further, Amazon failed to notify healthy workers who had been in contact with infected staff members. The company also did not provide employees with enough time to perform preventative measures like hygiene, sanitation and social distancing practices, according to court documents.

“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 filing reads.

Amazon, the lawsuit alleges, cut corners with safety requirements so as not to jeopardize its sales volume and productivity rates. The lawsuit noted that Amazon generated $130 billion in profits during the pandemic.

The lawsuit also claims that the company took “swift retaliatory action” to silence workers who spoke out against the alleged lax protocols. For example, one employee at the Staten Island facility was fired in late-March while another worker at the fulfillment center was issued a final written warning in April for making complaints, the filing stated.

Last week Amazon filed a preemptive lawsuit in a Brooklyn federal court to try and stop James’ lawsuit.

Amazon argued that the Attorney General does not have the legal authority to sue Amazon for workplace safety violations since federal labor and safety laws take precedence over New York’s laws.

In last week’s filing, Amazon defended its COVID-19 workplace measures, arguing that it has implemented more than 150 health and safety work procedures to protect employees during the pandemic.

The filing stated that, beginning in March, Amazon began to institute daily temperature checks, formalized contact tracing and rearranged workstations and break rooms to implement social distancing rules.

The company said it has also implemented enhanced cleaning protocols and distributed face masks to all workers in April which are required to be worn at all times.

“Amazon’s efforts far exceed what is required under the law, and, as discussed below, go well beyond measures that the Office of the New York Attorney General has deemed comprehensive,” the filing stated.

Amazon’s DBK1 distribution center in Woodside was identified in the lawsuit (Google Maps)

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