In an open letter to Jeff Bezos and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, a coalition of AGs have jointly called on Amazon to strengthen protections for a strained workforce amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter, penned by Massachusetts state AG Maura Healey — along with attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and D.C. — follows a similar note sent by the members in late March.
“Amazon and Whole Foods must take every possible step to protect their employees and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Healey said in a release tied to the letter. “We again call on these companies to provide assurances that they are complying with state laws and federal guidance aimed at keeping essential workers safe during this crisis.”
In particular, the note addresses questions about sick leave, safety measures, Amazon’s policies around notifying workers and a recent string of high-profile firings. That last bit was enough to warrant a similarly themed letter from nine prominent Democratic senators, inquiring whether the company had fired employees in retaliation for whistleblowing around unsafe work conditions.
“Such conduct, if proven, may violate Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act [29 U.S.C. §660(c)], as well as laws in certain of our States that forbid retaliation,” the AGs write. “Even the perception of retaliation during this public health emergency can serve to silence employees who raise legitimate concerns about health and safety measures, and place those employees, their co-workers, customers, and the public at grave risk.”
The new letter takes the extra step of singling out the behavior of Amazon-owned Whole Foods. “We are concerned that our Offices and the public are learning of these serious developments through secondhand media reports, rather than hearing directly from Whole Foods,” the letter adds. “Accordingly, we request that Whole Foods provide a description of its policies and processes, if any, that relate to notifying consumers, the public, and public health authorities of serious COVID-19 developments at Company stores.”
Amazon has, of course, denied allegations of firing whistleblowers and insisted that it has taken the necessary action as employees continue to work through the pandemic. The letter closes by noting that both Amazon and Whole Foods “are seeing a significant increase in sales as well, as consumers rely even more on online shopping and buy more groceries as they stay at home.”