Amazon launched a lawsuit against the New York Attorney General in an attempt to thwart threatened legal action against the retailer by the state over its Covid safety protocols and the firing of a protesting worker
Amazon drew attention from state authorities last March when it fired Chris Smalls, a warehouse worker who had organized a strike to protest the lack of protective measures at its facility in Staten Island, N.Y.
Amazon claimed Smalls was terminated for violating social distancing rules, but State Attorney General Letitia James called the company’s behavior “disgraceful,” citing that in New York the “right to organize is codified into law, and any retaliatory action by management related thereto is strictly prohibited.”
James then launched a probe of Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse, and threatened legal action against the retailer.
In its filing on Friday, Amazon claimed James exceeded her authority by threatening the company with legal action, asserting that federal labor and safety laws supersede those of the state.
Amazon has claimed that it has implemented safety precautions to protect its workers from the virus, including running temperature checks, putting up signs to enforce social distancing, performing Covid-19 tests as well as plans to administer vaccines. The retailer noted that its Staten Island facility passed an unannounced inspection by the city on March 30, the very day Smalls organized his protest. In November, Smalls himself filed a class action suit against Amazon, alleging the company violated federal civil rights law by firing him, and by also placing thousands of other minority Amazon employees at risk during the pandemic. In December, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board alleged Amazon’s firing of another warehouse employee, Gerald Bryson, was illegal. Amazon workers in Europe, including France, Italy, Spain and Poland, have also held strikes to protest what they said were unsafe conditions at warehouses. The New York Attorney General office has not yet responded to requests for comment on Amazon’s suit.
In September, Amazon said more than 19,800, or about 1.44%, of its frontline workers, including employees at Whole Food Markets, in the US, had contracted Covid-19. Amazon has kept its facilities open throughout the pandemic in order to satisfy a surge of demand from customers ordering products while stuck at home. On its blog, Amazon insists it has “ramped-up” onsite Covid-19 testing for employees and noted on Thursday that its Covid testing lab in Kentucky has processed more than one million Covid-19 tests for front-line employees from more than 700 testing sites. Amazon has also tested a wearable device that sounds an alert when workers get too close to each other.