Attorney General James Seeks Emergency Relief to Protect Rights and Safety of Amazon Workers
AG James Seeks Court-Appointed Monitor to Implement COVID-19 Safety Precautions at Staten Island Facility, Reinstatement of Employee Fired for Raising Safety Concerns to Management
NEW YORK – In continuing her efforts to protect workers during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, New York Attorney General Letitia James today filed a motion to seek a preliminary injunction to force Amazon to immediately address health and safety concerns at its warehouses that are threatening workers. The motion requests that the court appoint a monitor to oversee implementation of public health and safety measures at an Amazon facility on Staten Island that employs more than 5,000 workers and order the company to offer interim reinstatement to Christian Smalls, who was fired after he complained about deficiencies in Amazon’s COVID-19 safety practices at the beginning of the pandemic. Attorney General James took the legal action today in response to Amazon’s rollback of its already inadequate public health measures, even as a new variant threatens to cause higher rates of transmission, illness, and death.
“Amazon and its leadership banked billions of dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the crisis rages on, the health and concerns of the workers continue to be ignored,” said Attorney General James. “Amazon must guarantee a work environment that promotes safety, transparency, and respect for its hardworking employees, not one that further endangers them. We are filing this motion today to stop Amazon from continuing its practice of valuing profits over the health and wellbeing of its workers.”
In February 2021, Attorney General James commenced her lawsuit against Amazon over its failures to provide adequate health and safety measures for employees at the company’s New York facilities, as well as the company's retaliatory actions against multiple employees amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In the amended complaint, Attorney General James asserted that Amazon violated New York state Labor Law by failing to take reasonable measures to protect workers from the spread of COVID-19 and by unlawfully firing and disciplining employees who objected to Amazon’s unsafe work conditions. In October 2021, Justice Nancy Bannon denied Amazon’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Attorney General James.
Attorney General James opened an investigation into Amazon in March 2020 following numerous complaints about the lack of precautions taken to protect employees in Amazon facilities as New York was ravaged by COVID-19. The investigation was later broadened to examine whether Amazon unlawfully fired or disciplined employees who reported these safety concerns. At the time of these complaints, New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, and Staten Island had the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 diagnoses in New York City.
Attorney General James' investigation uncovered evidence showing that Amazon’s health and safety response violated state law by not providing reasonable and adequate protection to employees. Specifically, Amazon had inadequate cleaning and disinfection protocols and used productivity monitoring practices that failed to permit employees to take necessary precautions to protect themselves from the risk of COVID-19 infection, among other things. Additionally, Amazon implemented an inadequate COVID-19 tracing program that failed to consistently identify workers who came into close contact with employees who tested positive for COVID-19.
The motion, filed today in New York County State Supreme Court, seeks the appointment of a monitor to oversee the implementation of key safety and health measures at the JFK8 fulfillment center, including:
- Requiring Amazon to modify productivity monitoring policies to permit time for cleaning, hygiene, and social distancing, and communicate this to employees;
- Requiring Amazon to adopt policies for adequate cleaning and disinfection after infected workers have been present in the facility; and
- Requiring Amazon to institute proper COVID-19 contact tracing protocols, including identifying and notifying close contacts.
The evidence gathered through Attorney General James' investigation demonstrates that Amazon unlawfully fired and disciplined workers who reported their concerns about the company's compliance with these health and safety mandates, including Christian Smalls. Smalls raised concerns about Amazon’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to Amazon managers, made public complaints about Amazon’s practices through the media, and submitted complaints to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Amazon fired Smalls in March 2020 after he made these legally protected complaints. In today’s action, Attorney General James seeks a court order to have Christian Smalls reinstated to his prior position on an interim basis, pending the outcome of this litigation.
“Amazon has demonstrated, over and over again, that it refuses to prioritize its employees' safety — and that is unacceptable,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “Amazon workers have repeatedly reported their concerns about serious issues impacting their health and safety during the pandemic. But instead of addressing these concerns, Amazon has lashed out at those workers. This must stop. No worker should be subjected to unsafe conditions at work. And no worker should be retaliated against for standing up for their rights. Amazon must change its behavior; and it must be held accountable for its egregious safety record.”
This case is being handled by Labor Bureau Deputy Bureau Chief Julie Ulmet; Civil Enforcement Section Chief Fiona Kaye; General Labor Section Chief Seth Kupferberg; and Assistant Attorneys General Jessica Agarwal, Roya Aghanori, Kristen Ferguson, Elizabeth Koo, Stephanie Milks, and Jeremy Pfetsch; with assistance from Social Justice Coordinator Francisca Montaña — all under the supervision of Labor Bureau Chief Karen Cacace. The Labor Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux, and is overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.