Amazon has been the subject of considerable scrutiny in recent months. In the midst of a global pandemic, it is one of the few corporations in the world that is not only surviving – but thriving more than ever.
But as profits for the retail giant continue to rise, so has the coronavirus infection rate of warehouse workers around the U.S. There have been growing reports of health and safety concerns, and workers are claiming that Amazon is taking inadequate safety measures to protect them.
Lawsuit against Staten Island warehouse
This past week, three employees at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse in Staten Island filed a lawsuit against their employer for failing to uphold public safety guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the state of New York.
In the suit, the employees claim that Amazon:
- Discouraged workers from handwashing and other basic hygiene practices that would take time away from their productivity
- Failed to change operations so that they could property sanitize workstations between shifts
- Failed to advise workers of what they should do if they present symptoms of COVID-19
- Practiced “sloppy” contact tracing
- Failed to inform workers when colleagues became infected
The plaintiffs in the suit also claim that Amazon’s COVID-19 leave policies actually encourage workers to come to work when they are sick – thereby jeopardizing the health of others. This has resulted in a workplace environment in which workers fear for the health and safety of themselves and their family members.
One plaintiff contracted the virus at work, then requested paid quarantine leave (which the state of New York provides for), but Amazon denied her request. Her cousin, with whom she lives, contracted the virus from her and died a few weeks later.
Amazon’s response to the pandemic does not align with the recommendations set forth by the CDC or the state to preventing the spread of the virus.
Interestingly, the lawsuit against Amazon does not seek damages. Rather, its main aim is to curtail the spread of the virus. The plaintiffs want to force Amazon to comply with public safety orders issued by the CDC, the state and other medical professionals.
Profiting during a pandemic is not inherently wrong. But profiting at the expense of worker safety is never acceptable. All workers are entitled to a safe working environment and have legal recourse when those expectations are not met.