NY AG Investigates Amazon’s COVID-19 Measures, Labor Policies

New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to Amazon warning its COVID-19 health and safety measures “are so inadequate that they may violate several provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.” She added that firing workers speaking out against the company gives “a threatening message to other employees.”

Chris Smalls led a protest at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse with his coworkers against the company’s s lack of protection for workers against te deadly pandemic. Afterward, he was fired by the company. In response, NY AG James tweeted, “In the midst of a pandemic, Chris Smalls & his colleagues bravely protested the lack of precautions…employed to protect them from #COVID19. Then he was fired. I’m considering all legal options & calling on the NLRB to investigate. Amazon, this is disgraceful.” Meanwhile, Amazon claims he was fired for breaking social distancing and safety protocols. Leaked documents show that at a company meeting, corporate counsel suggested to make Smalls “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.” Two weeks later two additional vocal workers were fired. Officials state that their initial findings “raise serious concern that Amazon may have discharged [Smalls] in order to silence his complaints and send a threatening message to other employees that they should also keep quiet about any health and safety concerns.”

Attorney General James is looking into “other cases of potential illegal retaliation.” She has “urged Amazon to reinstate Smalls and requested all internal Amazon communications since Feb. 1 concerning workers’ complaints, organizing, protests and demonstrations.”

In a company statement, Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty stated that Amazon “respects workers’ rights to protest, ‘however, these rights do not provide blanket immunity against bad actions, particularly those that endanger the health, well-being or safety of their colleagues.’” Lighty added, “We encourage anyone to compare the health and safety measures Amazon has taken, and the speed of their implementation, during this crisis with other retailers.”

Amazon workers have tested positive for COVID-19, which sparked Smalls and others to protest. In March, Smalls filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Health. His concerns include warehouse conditions, such as group gatherings breaking social distancing rules, inadequate facility cleaning, and infected workers going to and from the facility. At least one Amazon employee has died from COVID-19. This comes in light of Amazon’s decision to hire 175,000 new workers to meet its growing demand during the pandemic.

Attorney General James did not specifically mention the legal action that would be taken.