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Amazon warehouse workers sue company over coronavirus dangers

Three Amazon warehouse employees have slapped Amazon with a lawsuit accusing the company of an inadequate response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Filed in New York this week, the suit says the e-commerce giant’s alleged lack of action put not only themselves at risk, but also family members at home, Bloomberg reported.

Plaintiff Barbara Chandler claimed she came down with the virus in March while working at the company’s Staten Island distribution facility. Weeks later, her cousin, who lived in the same household, died after displaying symptoms of the virus.

The suit, which was filed jointly with advocacy groups Towards Justice, Public Justice, and Make the Road New York, claims that workers at the warehouse were “explicitly or implicitly encouraged to continue attending work and prevented from adequately washing their hands or sanitizing their workstations.”

It claims Amazon’s widely publicized efforts to improve warehouse safety conditions in response to the virus had only “sought to create a facade of compliance,” while in reality, hazardous work practices continued. Employees at its warehouses are still working “at dizzying speeds, even if doing so prevents them from socially distancing, washing their hands, and sanitizing their workspaces,” the lawsuit says.

It also accuses the company of deploying inadequate methods for contact tracing when it learns of a warehouse worker testing positive for the virus.

Notably, those bringing the lawsuit are not seeking damages for illness or death, according to Bloomberg. Its main aim is instead to secure an injunction that would force Amazon to adhere to public health guidance.

Amazon came under fire early on in the pandemic when a number of warehouse workers accused it of failing to provide proper protections against the virus. At least nine people employed at Amazon warehouses are believed to have died after contracting the virus, while many more have tested positive.

The company courted further controversy in early April when it fired employee Chris Smalls in New York City after he spoke out about safety conditions inside the company’s warehouses. Amazon claimed at the time that it acted against Smalls for “violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk” and not because of his protest.

The company insists it has stepped up efforts to improve safety in the workplace, including providing staff with masks, conducting temperature checks, and increasing the availability of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.

Amazon told Digital Trends on Wednesday, June 3, that since the early days of the pandemic, it has “always followed the guidance of federal and local health authorities, including the CDC and WHO, our own workplace health and safety experts and an independent epidemiologist, and comply with all state and federal laws regarding public health not just during this pandemic, but year-round.”

Amazon’s online shopping operation has been under huge pressure during the pandemic after millions of people under lockdown turned to its service for essential items. The company responded by hiring 175,000 additional full- and part-time workers to meet the extra demand.

Updated on June 3, 2020: Added statement from Amazon.

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