New York sues Amazon over worker safety

Amazon’s pre-emptive move last week to stop New York state from taking legal action has failed. New York Attorney General Letitia James sued the online retailer over its handling of worker safety issues around the pandemic at two facilities.

In a complaint filed in a New York state court Tuesday, James said Amazon had not done enough to protect workers from the coronavirus at its fulfillment and distribution centers in two boroughs of New York City. The suit said, - quote - “Throughout the historic pandemic, Amazon has repeatedly and persistently failed to comply with its obligation to institute reasonable and adequate measures to protect its workers.”

James also accused the company of illegal retaliation. Last March, Amazon fired activist Christian Smalls, who had led a protest over conditions at the Staten Island warehouse. The company contends he put others at risk by violating a company request to quarantine after coming into contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

In its lawsuit filed four days ago in federal court, Amazon said that federal labor and safety laws took precedence over New York’s in addressing workplace safety and that James had overstepped her authority. In response to the state’s lawsuit, an Amazon spokeswoman said, - quote “We don’t believe the Attorney General’s filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic.”

The AG’s suit seeks to get Amazon to beef up its protection for workers, give Smalls back his job, and pay damages to him and another worker who allegedly faced retaliation.