AG Becerra Sues to Hold Amazon’s Feet To The Fire For COVID-19 Protections

Liz Carey

Sacramento, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra recently announced that he has petitioned the Sacramento County Superior Court to force Amazon to comply with investigations into whether or not the company is upholding COVID-19 safety standards.

Amazon has said it has been cooperating with the investigation, but Becerra said a series of delays and incomplete responses from the online retail giant suggest the company is stalling to slow down the investigation.

Becerra accused Amazon of withholding information in the state’s investigation into that company’s COVID-19 protocols and number of cases at distribution facilities across the state.

Claiming that the company has made “billions during this pandemic relying on the labor of essential workers,” Becerra said the company has failed to adequately comply with lawful requests for information.

“It’s critical to know if these workers are receiving the protections on the job that they are entitled to under the law… Amazon has delayed responding adequately to our investigative requests long enough,” Becerra said in a statement.

Amazon Through the Pandemic

On Aug. 16, 2020, the California Department of Justice issued investigative subpoenas, the statement said, after months of informal communications with the company about workplace health and safety measures. Becerra’s office said the subpoenas are looking for specific details about “the nature and extent of Amazon’s coronavirus prevention efforts, including with regard to sick leave policies and cleaning procedures, as well as raw data on the number of infections and deaths at their facilities in the state.”

Becerra’s office said that the company has failed to adequately respond and missed several opportunities to comply with the information request.

Amazon has come under fire for warehouse conditions and worker safety since the beginning of the pandemic.

In April, Amazon fired two of its tech workers for criticizing the company’s pandemic response. Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa were fired in mid-April after they became outspoken critics of the company’s unsafe warehouse conditions.

Cunninghma tweeted just prior to her firing that a lack of safe and sanitary working conditions “puts (workers) and the public at risk.” Cunningham had offered to match donations up to $500 for sickened Amazon workers in that same tweet.

Costa similarly criticized the company for its worker protections, and also offered, via Twitter to match donations up to $500 for warehouse workers “while they struggle to get consistent, sufficient protections and procedures from our employer.”

The company also acknowledged it had fired a worker at a Minnesota warehouse who had called for safer working conditions. Around the same time, the company acknowledged that one of the managers in its Hawthorne, Cal., plant had died of COVID-19 complications on March 31 – the first reported coronavirus-related death amongst the Amazon family of employees.

In October, Amazon released a report that showed more than 19,000 of its workers have tested positive or been presumed to be positive for COVID-19. The report looked at data on the 1.3 million essential workers employed at Amazon and Whole Foods in the U.S. from March 1 to Sept. 19, and then compared that data to COVID-19 positive rates in the general population.

Amazon said that if the rate of infection had been the same amongst its employees as it is for the general population, the company would have had nearly 34,000 cases in its workforce. Instead, the company said, its rate of infection was 42 percent lower.

The report showed that in a state-by-state analysis of the information, in California, the company should have had as many as 25 employees per every 1,000 testing positive for COVID-19. Instead, just over 14 employees per every 1,000 tested positive.

In November, the company announced that it would be giving its front-line employees employed by the company from Dec. 1 to 31 a $300 bonus for full-time employees and a $150 bonus for part-time employees. Combined with other holiday pay incentives, the company estimated it would be spending $2.5 billion in bonuses, this year, including a previous $500 million ‘thank you’ bonus for front-line employees.

On its blog, Amazon said its COVID-19 protocols included more than 150 process updates – from enhanced cleaning to social distancing measures, as well as distributing personal protective gear for employees, making regular disinfecting sweeps and temperature checks. Additionally, the company said it would be providing employees diagnosed with COVID-19 with up to two weeks of paid time off, as well as comprehensive health benefits from day one of employment.

Amazon did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

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