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New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Amazon Tuesday evening that claims the company failed to provide sufficient health and safety protections from COVID-19 for warehouse workers and that Amazon retaliated against workers who spoke out about working conditions.
The lawsuit alleges that Amazon's cleaning and disinfection processes in a warehouse and sorting center in Staten Island failed to follow New York state and CDC guidelines. It also claims that Amazon used productivity monitoring to prevent workers from taking the time to fully protect themselves and their workstations, and that the company failed to maintain a robust and appropriate contact-tracing program.
The suit is based on the AG's investigation into an Amazon warehouse and sorting facility in Staten Island following both public complaints and protests about working conditions by two employees, one of whom was later fired from the company. Christian Smalls was dismissed after leading a small protest in an Amazon parking lot, and Amazon justified his firing by claiming that he violated social distancing and quarantine guidelines by hosting the protest. Smalls then filed a class-action lawsuit against the company in November.
Amazon filed a pre-emptive suit against the AG last week, claiming that James had threatened to sue Amazon if the company did not reduce worker productivity requirements, subsidize bus service and rehire Smalls. In the suit, Amazon also asked that James be required to say that she does not have authority over workplace safety rules during the pandemic.
In October, Amazon said that almost 20,000 workers had tested positive for the coronavirus between March and September at a positivity rate of around 1.4%, which was lower than overall community transmission rates.
"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," said Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, in a statement.
Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.