New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Amazon Tuesday night claimed the company was not doing enough to protect its warehouse workers during the pandemic and unlawfully fired or punished two employees who spoke out on security issues.
The lawsuit alleges Amazon violated state law regarding its sanitation practices during the pandemic and "implemented an inadequate COVID-19 tracking program that did not consistently identify employees who came into close contact with employees who tested positive for COVID-19."
The 64-page complaint also contains a nugget of gold that could hurt Amazon's defense against firing one of the whistleblowers: two of Amazon's own employees agreed that Christian Smalls' firing "seemed unjustified," the AG office claims.
The legal battle comes while Amazon is still at the center of the most controversial labor battle in its history. In the first few months of the pandemic, Amazon fired at least six employees who were involved in worker protests or who spoke out about working conditions at Amazon parcel facilities. The National Labor Relations Board has found its credit in the allegations of one of them, Courtney Bowden, and she will be heard in March, according to BuzzFeed NewsThousands of workers in a gigantic Amazon warehouse in Alabama are also currently voting by mail on whether or not to join a union, in the first union vote of this magnitude at one of Amazon's US offices. Union organizers argue that even before the pandemic the volume of products flowing through Amazon facilities, the mandatory pace of work in Amazon's warehouses was unsafe and inhumane.
The New York AG investigation, which began in late March, focused on working conditions and practices at two of Amazon's facilities in New York City: a large warehouse on Staten Island and a smaller delivery station in Queens.
“Amazon's blatant disregard for health and safety requirements has threatened serious illness and damage to the thousands of workers in these facilities and poses a continuing substantial and specific threat to public health,” the lawsuit reads.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told the Washington Post in an emailed statement, “We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees, as demonstrated in our filing last week, and we do not believe the attorney general's filing accurately reflects the leading response from Amazon on the pandemic. "
New York's best lawyer makes the same claim Amazon wrongfully fired Smalls, a warehouse assistant manager, and unfairly imposed disciplinary action on another employee, Derrick Palmer, who complained to managers about what they thought were insufficient security measures and spoke out in the media about their working conditions. Amazon fired Smalls on the evening of March 30, the same day he led a small strike of workers at the Staten Island facility to protest what they believed were unsafe working conditions. Amazon said it fired Smalls for violating social distance policy while on paid quarantine leave, but according to the complaint, two of Amazon's own employees disagreed with his dismissal.
Amazon & # 39; s “[Human Resources business partner] informed HR manager Hernandez in writing that Smalls's resignation did not seem justified because Smalls had not entered the JFK8 facility on March 30 and Amazon had not informed him that his quarantine order banned him enter Amazon's property. outside the facility and Smalls had socially distanced himself during his talks with JFK8 managers, ”the complaint reads. "In response, HR Manager Hernandez stated that she agreed."
The lawsuit wants Amazon Smalls to offer his job back and pay him and Palmer back, as well as "emotional stress damage." It also calls on Amazon to "take all positive steps, including changing policies, providing training, and undergoing surveillance, among other things, to ensure that Amazon's life, health, and safety are reasonable. and adequately protected. "