E-commerce giant Amazon has filed a lawsuit against the New York state attorney general’s office in a move to prevent legal action over the company’s handling of coronavirus conditions at one of its Staten Island warehouses last year. The company wants to prevent the state from exercising “regulatory authority over workplace safety responses to COVID-19 and claims of retaliation against workers who protest working conditions.”
The Verge reports that Amazon has filed a lawsuit against the New York state attorney general’s office as a preemptive effort to prevent legal action over the company’s handling of coronavirus conditions at a Staten Island warehouse last year. Amazon is reportedly seeking an injunction that would prevent the attorney general’s office from trying to exercise “regulatory authority over workplace safety responses to COVID-19 and claims of retaliation against workers who protest working conditions.”
Last March, employees at Amazon’s JKF8 warehouse stated that they didn’t have the necessary protective equipment and were not informed when some co-workers tested positive for the coronavirus. Amazon fired multiple workers who protested the conditions including the organizer of a walkout in March, Chris Smalls.
Smalls appeared on Breitbart News Tonight to discuss the situation, stating:
At the beginning of March, we were unprotected. We didn’t have any facial masks, we didn’t have any cleaning supplies. We didn’t have the right type of gloves that protect our skin. My associates, my employees that I supervised were falling ill in a domino effect, one by one [with] flu-like symptoms. Some of them were even vomiting at their stations. It was very alarming to me. I started to raise my concerns to my local HR department.
We didn’t have any confirmed cases at the time, but I wanted to be proactive instead of reactive [in] dealing with something that we’d never dealt with before, this virus. I was concerned. They pretty much swept it under the rug because we didn’t have any safety guidelines implemented at the time. We didn’t have any cases; we were nonchalant about it.
So I fought behind the scenes. I sent emails out to the CDC, to the health department, to the government of New York to try to get the building closed down, quarantined for two weeks, because what I’d seen hand-in-hand and face-to-face was my employees and my colleagues around me begin to fall sick.
Amazon alleged that Smalls was fired for failing to adhere to social distancing guidelines, not for his protest organization. New York Attorney General Letitia James called Smalls’ firing “disgraceful” and called for the National Labor Relations Board to launch an investigation.
Five Senators wrote a letter to Amazon in April questioning Smalls’ dismissal. At the time, Amazon stated that the workers “were not terminated for talking publicly about working conditions” but for violating safety policies.
In its recently filed complaint, Amazon claims that James’ office “lacks the legal authority” to demand legal remedies such as the surrendering of profit. Amazon claims that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has jurisdiction over workplace safety claims brought under New York labor laws.
The lawsuit further claims that the National Labor Relations Board would have authority over Smalls and other employees’ claims of retaliation, not the attorney general’s office. The lawsuit alleges that the Staten Island facility passed an inspection by the sheriff’s office of New York on March 30 which found that the workers’ safety complaints were “baseless.” Amazon has further alleged that it conducts regular temperature checks, provides staggered shifts, and promotes social distancing at the warehouse.
In a statement sent to yhe Verge, James called Amazon’s lawsuit “nothing more than a sad attempt to distract from the facts and shirk accountability for its failures to protect hardworking employees from a deadly virus.” James added that her office would “not be intimidated by anyone, especially corporate bullies that put profits over the health and safety of working people.”
Amazon refused to provide a comment when contacted by the Verge.
Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address email@example.com