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New York sues Amazon over worker pandemic safety issues

New York sues Amazon over worker pandemic safety issues
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New York's attorney general moved Tuesday to sue Amazon over alleged "flagrant disregard" of workplace safety codes and for allegedly retaliating against employees who spoke out.

In a press release, Attorney General Letitia James (D) accused the company of failing to create a reasonably safe workplace, including what she said were insufficient steps to protect workers from the spread of COVID-19.

“While Amazon and its CEO made billions during this crisis, hardworking employees were forced to endure unsafe conditions and were retaliated against for rightfully voicing these concerns,” said James in a statement. “Since the pandemic began, it is clear that Amazon has valued profit over people and has failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers."

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"The workers who have powered this country and kept it going during the pandemic are the very workers who continue to be treated the worst. As we seek to hold Amazon accountable for its actions, my office remains dedicated to protecting New York workers from exploitation and unfair treatment in all forms," she continued.

Amazon fired back in its own statement, claiming that James's statements did not present "an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic."

"We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees, as demonstrated in our filing,” said Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel, according to Reuters.

The lawsuit was expected by Amazon, which in turn filed its own suit against James last week in an attempt to head off her legal filing by arguing that workplace safety was not under the attorney general's purview.

James's office "lacks the legal authority it purports to wield against Amazon,” the company wrote in a filing last week.

James also accused Amazon of retaliating against employees who spoke out against the company's safety protocols, including Chris Smalls, a Black former employee who was fired after raising concerns about the company's COVID-19 protocols. Amazon maintains that he violated their COVID-19 safeguards, leading to his firing.

"Smalls and [fellow employee Derrick Palmer] both raised concerns about Amazon’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to Amazon managers, made public complaints about Amazon’s practices through the media, and submitted complaints to at least one government agency. Amazon fired Smalls and issued Palmer a final written warning after they made these valid and reasonable complaints," reads James's press release.

The company denied those claims previously, claiming that they fired Smalls for "putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of the terms of his employment."