Amazon Warehouse

New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Amazon this week over what she describes as a “flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements” related to COVID-19.

The lawsuit, which targets Amazon warehouses in Staten Island and Queens, comes after an employee working at one of the two locations died of COVID-19.

Both facilities were deemed “essential” last year and thus remained open during the worst months of the pandemic – even when more than 230 employees working at the Staten Island facility tested positive.

It is obvious that Amazon chose to ignore any requirements that would “jeopardize its sales volume and productivity rates,” argues James. She noted the company’s “outsized profits” and “unprecedented rate of growth” during the pandemic.

Indeed, Amazon reported profits in excess of $130 billion in 2020.

James has also accused Amazon of silencing several employees who spoke up about the company’s inappropriate behavior.

In March 2020, Christian Smalls was fired from the Staten Island warehouse after leading a protest over conditions at the facility. Months later, employee Derrick Palmer received a written warning after he joined with others to demand stronger safety protections.

Through the lawsuit, James hopes to force Amazon to enhance protections for workers, re-hire Smalls, and pay damages to other workers who faced inappropriate retaliation.

In a countersuit, Amazon explained that since federal workplace safety laws take precedence over state laws, James lacks the authority to sue.

“We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees, as demonstrated in our filing last week, and we don’t believe the Attorney General’s filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic,” said the company in a statement.

In the meantime, thousands of Amazon employees in Alabama are voting on whether to unionize in order to demand increased adherence to workplace safety requirements.