Amazon is being sued by New York’s attorney general who argued its extreme profit margins “came at the expense of the lives, health and safety of its frontline workers”.
Letitia James officially filed a complaint at the New York Supreme Court yesterday, accusing the retailer of both failing to provide adequate safety measures during the pandemic and punishing those who criticised its response.
Its Staten Island facility, which has been the centre of an ongoing legal dispute between Amazon and its workers during the pandemic, was a key focus of the lawsuit alongside a delivery depot in Queens.
James argued that at least 90 of the 250 employees at the facility who contracted coronavirus had been at work the previous week, but Amazon did not begin interviewing infected employees until late June to determine who they had come into close contact with.
Instead, it used “time-consuming” surveillance footage sometimes taking up to three days to determine who could also have contracted the virus.
Furthermore, she highlighted Amazon’s retaliation against Chris Smalls who was sacked by the retailer last year after staging a walkout in protest of Amazon’s response to the pandemic.
His dismissal sparked an investigation by New York’s commission on human rights and, according to James, sent a message to employees that they should “reasonably fear” retaliation for speaking out against its COVID-19 response.
The lawsuit is seeking damages for Smalls and wants Amazon to change its policies regarding safety measures.
Amazon, having preemted the lawsuit, countersued James last week in a 64-page complaint arguing it exceeded the safety measures which were legally required.
It referred to a surprise inspection by New York City officials, who ruled the company went “above and beyond” the current compliance requirements.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in response: “We don’t believe the attorney general’s filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic.”