AG James sues Amazon for failing to protect Woodside workers during COVID-19 pandemic

Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City
Two years after Amazon ditched its plans for a massive headquarters in Long Island City, it is being sued by New York for failing to protect workers in Woodside during the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

Two years after Amazon scuttled its plan to build its HQ2 campus in Long Island City, and create 25,000 jobs, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the e-commerce giant over COVID-19 workplace safety at its distribution center in Woodside and another facility on Staten Island.

The lawsuit, filed by James on Tuesday, Feb. 16, alleges Amazon failed to maintain a safe work environment by reasonably protecting workers from the spread of COVID-19 in violation of the New York State Labor Law.

“While Amazon and its CEO made billions during the crisis, hardworking employees were forced to endure unsafe conditions and were retaliated against for rightfully voicing these concerns,” James said. “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.”

James opened an investigation into Amazon last March following numerous complaints about the lack of precautions taken to protect employees as Queens was ravaged by COVID-19. The investigation was later broadened to examine whether Amazon unlawfully fired or disciplined employees who reported these safety concerns. In particular, the investigation focused on the two New York facilities with a combined workforce of 5,000, JFK8 on Staten Island and DBK1, located at 1 Bulova Ave. in Woodside.

The investigation uncovered evidence showing that Amazon’s health and safety response violated state law with respect to cleaning and disinfection protocols, contact tracing, and generally permitting employees to take necessary precautions to protect themselves from the risk of COVID-19 infection.

“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,” Amazon Spokesperson Kelly Nantel said.

Just days earlier, Amazon filed a preemptive lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court arguing that federal labor and safety laws take precedence over New York’s laws, meaning James would not have the legal authority to sue Amazon for workplace safety violations.

James’ lawsuit seeks broad injunctive relief and damages forcing Amazon to change its health and safety protocols, conduct training and reinstate and award back pay to workers who were terminated.

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