Labor

NY attorney general: Amazon’s protections for warehouse workers ‘inadequate’

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New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) has issued a letter calling Amazon’s protections for warehouse workers in the state “inadequate” and says the company may have broken state whistleblower laws by firing a Staten Island warehouse worker.

“While we continue to investigate, the information so far available to us raises concerns that Amazon’s health and safety measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are so inadequate that they may violate several provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act,” James’s office said in a letter obtained by NPR and dated last week.

Amazon fired worker Christian Smalls in March after he staged a walkout demanding the closure of the Staten Island warehouse after several workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

Amazon has denied Smalls was fired for organizing the walkout, saying he had been told to self-isolate after exposure to people with the virus and he instead continued coming to work.

In the letter, James calls on Amazon to give Smalls his job back and asks for any internal company communications on worker complaints and organizing dating back to Feb. 1.

“This Office has learned that many workers are fearful about speaking out about their concerns following the termination of Mr. Smalls’ employment,” the letter states. “This is a particularly dangerous message to send during a pandemic, when chilling worker speech about health and safety practices could literally be a matter of life and death.”

In a statement to The Hill, an Amazon spokesperson said workers’ rights to protest “do not provide blanket immunity against bad actions, particularly those that endanger the health, well-being or safety of their colleagues.”

Since Smalls’s action, workers at various other Amazon warehouses in other states have organized similar protests and walkouts, demanding the retail giant shut down all facilities with confirmed cases of the virus.

James’s office said in the letter that Smalls filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Health on March 21.

The Hill has reached out to Amazon for comment.

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