Amazon’s pandemic labor practices being probed

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Amazon’s safety measures and labor practices during the coronavirus pandemic are being investigated by New York’s top law enforcement officer after the company fired the leader of a Staten Island warehouse walkout.

New York Attorney General Letitia James told Amazon in an April 22 letter that the state is looking into whether the company violated federal employment law or ran afoul of state whistle-blower protections by dismissing the worker, Chris Smalls, her spokesperson confirmed on Monday.

James’s preliminary finding is that Amazon may have fired Smalls to silence him and that the working conditions at the facility may have violated provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the spokesperson said. The letter was obtained and reported first by National Public Radio.

The attorney general’s office declined to comment further. Last month, James called Smalls’s firing “immoral and inhumane.” Her deputy labor bureau chief tweeted the NPR report Monday night.

At the end of March, a group of workers at the Staten Island fulfillment center walked off the job to demand Amazon close the facility for extended cleaning. They said a number of their colleagues were diagnosed with Covid-19. Seattle-based Amazon said at the time that Smalls violated safety regulations, including failing to abide by a 14-day quarantine required after being exposed to an employee with a confirmed case of Covid-19.

Amazon said it’s taken “extreme measures” to keep its employees safe, including increasing time off and pay.

“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,” Lisa Levandowski, an Amazon spokesperson, said in an emailed statement.

Bloomberg News
Workplace safety and security Amazon Legal & General
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