Pandemic: New York sues Amazon for neglecting its employees

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New York State filed a lawsuit against Amazon on Wednesday, accusing the e-commerce giant of neglect in protecting its employees during the pandemic and retaliation against employees who protested the working conditions.

• Read also: All the developments of the pandemic

The lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, accuses Amazon of its management of security at two New York sites: a distribution and delivery center in the district of Queens and a huge warehouse in Staten Island where several rallies were organized in the spring by employees criticizing management for not having sufficiently protected them against COVID-19.

“Since the start of the pandemic, it is clear that Amazon has favored profits over staff and failed to ensure the good health and safety of its workers,” accuses New York Attorney General Letitia James.

“We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees (…) and do not believe that the prosecutor’s complaint portrays a true picture of Amazon’s response” to the pandemic, said by email to AFP Kelly Nantel, a spokesperson for the company.

The New York lawsuit comes just four days after Amazon preemptive action, asking a federal judge to rule that the head of the New York Department of Justice has no jurisdiction to take legal action over security issues at job.

This request was not enough to abandon Ms. James, whose complaint reflects the rise in anger against Amazon, one of the big winners with other tech groups (Apple, Google, Facebook) of the pandemic which has caused waves of layoffs and left thousands of SMEs and convenience stores behind.

The Seattle group posted record sales of $ 125.5 billion last quarter. Its stock gained more than 76% on Wall Street in a year, which helped to increase the fortune of its founder and boss Jeff Bezos, who again became the richest man in the world on paper on Tuesday in front of the co-founder from Tesla, Elon Musk.

Mountain of challenges

The New York initiative also adds to the challenges Amazon faces, facing an ongoing vote by employees in a warehouse in Alabama (southeast) to decide whether they want to be represented by a union.

Authorities in California and Connecticut are also examining several of its practices, such as the treatment of merchants on its platform and its sales of digital books.

New York says Amazon is not complying with its cleaning and disinfection requirements at its sites, such as sterilizing and ventilating areas where employees with COVID-19 have been working. The process of informing employees about cases of contamination of their colleagues is “legally insufficient” and contact tracing is not “suitable”.

The company is also accused of not having closed its sites to have them cleaned up when cases of COVID-19 infections were detected there. The group would also have continued to discipline employees based on their productivity rate.

“Amazon reduced costs when it came to complying with requirements that could have jeopardized sales volume and productivity rate,” further denounces the complaint.

The group is also accused of having taken retaliatory measures against employees who had denounced “risky” working conditions. This is the case, according to the State of New York, of Christian Smalls, one of the leaders of the rallies outside the Staten Island fulfillment center in the spring.

The company has always disputed this version, explaining that Mr Smalls was fired for taking part in the protest when he was supposed to be in quarantine after coming into contact with an infected colleague.

Ms. James asks the justice to force Amazon to change its practices, to compensate dismissed employees and to rehire Christian Smalls among others.