- Several Amazon warehouse workers have sued the company, claiming its lax safety practices put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and contributed to the death of one family member, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.
- The lawsuit alleges that employees were pressured to keep working, meet “oppressive and dangerous” quotas that kept them from following social distancing guidelines, and punished for speaking out about working conditions.
- The employees work at Amazon’s Staten Island, New York, facility, where a coworker died last month and which came under fire for its safety practices during protests in April and May.
- Amazon told Business Insider that it has invested in additional safety measures as well as increased benefits for employees, and that it has always followed public health officials’ guidance.
- Amazon is already facing several investigations into its working conditions and alleged retaliation against whistleblowers.
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Three Amazon employees in New York have sued the company, alleging its lax safety measures and pressure put on workers placed them and their family members at an increased risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
One of the employees, Barbara Chandler, says she contracted the virus at Amazon’s Staten Island facility, and that within a month, her cousin died after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, according to Bloomberg.
In the lawsuit, she said workers “were explicitly or implicitly encouraged to continue attending work and prevented from adequately washing their hands or sanitizing their workstations.”
The complaint accused Amazon of violating public nuisance and employee safety laws by giving them false information, setting “oppressive and dangerous” hourly quotas, punishing workers who spoke out, and telling them to not inform others if they become infected, Bloomberg reported.
The employees are not seeking financial compensation for their illness or the death of a family member, but rather are primarily asking the court to issue an injunction that would force Amazon to adhere to public health guidelines, according to Bloomberg.
“We are saddened by the tragic impact COVID-19 has had on communities across the globe, including on some Amazon team members and their family and friends,” Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski told Business Insider, adding that the company has invested $800 million in safety measures, such as “temperature checks, masks, gloves, enhanced cleaning and sanitization,” as well as additional pay and benefits options like unpaid leave.
Amazon said it has always followed guidelines from public health officials and that it complies with all federal and state laws concerning public health.
Amazon has come under increasing scrutiny from employees, lawmakers, and regulators for working conditions at its warehouses during the pandemic, as well as its alleged retaliation against whistleblowers and its lack of transparency around cases at its warehouses.
Employees at the Staten Island facility, in particular, have been vocal in calling out what they perceive as inadequate health and safety measures, and staged protests in April and again May — along with workers from Amazon-owned Whole Foods as well as other grocery and retail companies.
The company fired Christian Smalls after he helped organize the April walkout, prompting an investigation from New York City’s civil rights commission as well as inquiries from the state’s attorney general, the National Labor Relations Board, and lawmakers into whether Amazon violated workplace safety rules or illegally retaliated against whistleblowers.
Amazon previously told Business Insider that it has made more than 150 changes to its warehouse procedures and claimed that infection rates at its Staten Island facility are lower than in the community generally (though it did not provide any evidence to support that claim). It has also said it respects the right of workers to protest.