Lawsuit says Amazon failed to protect warehouse staff from virus


New York (AFP)

Three Amazon warehouse employees announced a lawsuit Thursday claiming the US retail and tech giant failed to protect its workers from coronavirus infections at a New York facility.

The complaint filed Wednesday in federal court said the "relentless pace of work at Amazon facilities" led to hazardous conditions and that company policies "discourage workers from leaving their workstations to wash their hands and from taking the time to wipe down their workstations."

The lawsuit comes following protests outside the facility in the New York borough of Staten Island where one Amazon worker was fired. The employee said his dismissal was the result of speaking out, while Amazon maintained it was for his failure to quarantine.

One of the three workers in the lawsuit claimed to have been infected with coronavirus "from workers who were explicitly or implicitly encouraged to continue attending work and prevented from adequately washing their hands or sanitizing their workstations," according to the lawsuit.

The workers and family members are seeking policy changes, including a more transparent leave policy that encourages workers to stay home when dictated by public health guidance without fear of losing their jobs. They also want stepped up "contact tracing" for infected workers and back pay for quarantine leave.

According to the complaint, Amazon allowed workers to continue on the job even after being in contact with infected individuals.

Amazon, which has hired 175,000 new employees to deal with surging demand during the pandemic, claims to have made dozens of changes to improve health and safety at its facilities. It has also set aside and estimated $4 billion in the current quarter for virus mitigation.

The company has maintained it has followed safety guidelines of state and federal public health officials and has in many cases gone beyond compliance requirements.

Asked about the lawsuit, Amazon had no specific comment but spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said: "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. From early March to May 1, we offered our employees unlimited time away from work, and since May 1 we have offered leave for those most vulnerable or who need to care for children or family members."