New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a lawsuit alleging that Amazon failed to provide adequate health and safety measures in two New York facilities, and that it unlawfully disciplined and fired employees who complained.
James opened an investigation into Amazon in March of last year, which her office says initially focused on conditions at a fulfillment center in Staten Island and a distribution center in Queens — collectively employing more than 5,000 people — before expanding to look at the firing and disciplining of employees as well.
In a statement, James said:
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. 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. 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.
Last week, Amazon preemptively sued James, arguing that workplace safety is a federal matter and that she did not have authority to bring her suit.
“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,” said Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel in a statement.
Among other things, the suit alleges that Amazon violated state laws around cleaning and disinfection protocols, as well as contact tracing, and that it failed to alter its productivity policies to allow employees “to take the time necessary to engage in hygiene, sanitation, social-distancing, and necessary cleaning practices.”
The suit also points to the firing of Christian Smalls (who has filed his own lawsuit against the company) and its warnings to Derrick Palmer as “swift retaliatory action against workers’ complaints.”
James’ office says that it’s seeking changes in Amazon’s policies, backpay/damages and reinstatement for Smalls, damages for Palmer and “requiring Amazon to give up the profits it made as a result of its illegal acts.”