New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Amazon on Tuesday night alleging that the online behemoth bypassed regulations meant to protect its workers from COVID-19.
The lawsuit claims that since the pandemic began in March the company refused to adopt legally required safety measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus in its two New York City facilities. It also alleges that Amazon did not adequately sanitize and close its facilities, adopt necessary social distancing measures or notify its employees of possible coronavirus exposures.
“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.
The lawsuit follows a complaint from Amazon against James made last week in an effort to block it. The company alleged that James was trying to oversee activities and policies that fell under federal law, putting them outside of her jurisdiction and invalidating the suit as a result.
“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,” Amazon’s complaint said, adding that the steps taken have earned “praise from health and safety officials and law enforcement officers.”
James’ suit cited Amazon’s facilities in Staten Island and Queens, where 5,000 and several hundred essential employees work, respectively. At the Staten Island center, at least 250 employees told Amazon that they had tested positive for COVID-19, and over 90 were back at work within a week of their diagnosis, the lawsuit said. (RELATED: Thousands Of Amazon Employees Likely Were Exposed To Coronavirus)
“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,” James said.
The suit also alleges that Amazon retaliated against employees who criticized the company’s insufficient response to the spread of the virus. One employee was fired over the objections of Amazon human resources employees after reporting that a potential exposure and protesting the company’s pandemic working conditions, the suit said.
The New York Attorney General’s Office is seeking changes in Amazon’s policies backpay, and emotional distress damages for the workers affected, according to the suit. (RELATED: Parler Sues Amazon)
“This lawsuit is about Amazon’s failure to protect its workforce in New York,” said Stuart Applebaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in a statement on Wednesday. “Amazon needs to do better for all its employees to keep them safe. It’s not that Amazon cannot afford to, but that Amazon doesn’t want to. Amazon has betrayed its responsibility to its employees to provide a safe workplace; and we must never tolerate that. Amazon needs to change.”
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