New York is suing Amazon over pandemic labor circumstances

A protester standing outside an Amazon facility holds a sign that reads “Our health is just as essential.”
Former Amazon worker Christian Smalls outdoors an organization warehouse in March 2020. | Stephanie Keith/Getty Photographs

The lawsuit additionally alleges that Amazon’s personal HR managers disagreed with the firing of the whistleblower Christian Smalls.

New York Legal professional Normal Letitia James filed a lawsuit towards Amazon on Tuesday night, claiming that the corporate didn’t do sufficient to guard its warehouse employees through the pandemic and unlawfully fired or disciplined two workers who spoke out about issues of safety.

The swimsuit alleges that Amazon violated state legislation with respect to its sanitation practices through the pandemic and “carried out an insufficient COVID-19 tracing program that didn’t persistently establish employees who got here into shut contact with workers who examined optimistic for COVID-19.”

The 64-page grievance additionally accommodates a nugget that would harm Amazon’s protection towards firing one of many whistleblowers: Two of Amazon’s personal Human Sources workers agreed that Christian Smalls’s firing “didn’t appear justified,” the AG’s workplace claims.

The authorized battle comes as Amazon continues to seek out itself on the middle of essentially the most contentious labor battle in its historical past. Within the first few months of the pandemic, Amazon fired a minimum of six workers who have been concerned in employee protests or who spoke out about working circumstances at Amazon bundle services. The Nationwide Labor Relations Board has discovered benefit in allegations by one in every of them, Courtney Bowden, and she is going to get a listening to in March, in keeping with BuzzFeed Information. 1000’s of employees at a large Amazon warehouse in Alabama are additionally presently voting by mail on whether or not to unionize, within the first union vote of this dimension at one in every of Amazon’s US services. Union organizers are arguing that, even earlier than the pandemic turbocharged the amount of merchandise flowing by way of Amazon services, the necessary tempo of labor inside Amazon’s warehouses has been unsafe and inhumane.

The New York AG’s investigation, which started in late March, centered on working circumstances and practices inside two of Amazon’s New York Metropolis services: a big warehouse in Staten Island and a smaller supply station in Queens.

“Amazon’s flagrant disregard for well being and security necessities has threatened critical sickness and grave hurt to the 1000’s of employees in these services and poses a continued substantial and particular hazard to the general public well being,” the lawsuit reads.

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel instructed the Washington Submit in an emailed assertion: “We care deeply in regards to the well being and security of our workers, as demonstrated in our submitting final week, and we don’t consider the Legal professional Normal’s submitting presents an correct image of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic.”

New York’s prime lawyer additionally alleges that Amazon unlawfully fired Smalls, a warehouse assistant supervisor, and unlawfully disciplined one other employee, Derrick Palmer, who complained to managers about what they felt have been subpar security precautions, and who spoke out within the media about their working circumstances. Amazon fired Smalls on the night of March 30, which was the identical day that he led a small walkout of workers on the Staten Island facility to protest what they mentioned have been unsafe working circumstances. Amazon mentioned it fired Smalls as a result of he violated social distancing insurance policies whereas he was on paid quarantine go away, however two of Amazon’s personal Human Sources workers disagreed together with his termination, in keeping with the grievance.

Amazon’s “[Human Resources business partner] communicated in writing to HR Supervisor Hernandez that Smalls’s firing didn’t appear justified as a result of Smalls had not entered the JFK8 facility on March 30 and Amazon had not communicated to him that his quarantine order prohibited him from getting into Amazon property outdoors the power and Smalls had engaged in social distancing throughout his discussions with JFK8 managers,” the grievance reads. “In response, HR Supervisor Hernandez acknowledged that she agreed.”

The lawsuit desires Amazon to supply Smalls his job again and supply again pay in addition to “emotional stress damages” to him and Palmer. It additionally requires Amazon to “take all affirmative steps, together with altering insurance policies, conducting coaching, and present process monitoring, amongst others, to make sure that Amazon fairly and adequately protects the lives, well being, and security of its workers.”

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