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New York says Amazon failed to protect workers from COVID-19

New York is suing Amazon, claiming the company failed to provide workers with a safe environment at two warehouses in the state as COVID-19 infections surged nationwide.

The suit from New York Attorney General Letitia James landed just days after Amazon preemptively sued to block the suit over its coronavirus safety protocols and the firing of one of its employees who objected to working conditions.

In the suit filed late Tuesday, New York claims Amazon showed a "flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements" and retaliated illegally against employees who raised alarms.

"We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees, as demonstrated in our filing last week, and we don't believe the Attorney General's filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon's industry-leading response to the pandemic," Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement. 

An Amazon warehouse assistant manager, Chris Smalls, who organized a walkout from the company's Staten Island, New York, facility was fired back in March 2020, prompting an outcry from New York City's mayor and the state's attorney general.

Fired Amazon employees say company "silenced" them for speaking out about warehouse worker safety 06:09

Smalls lost his job after helping lead a protest over what some workers claim is the company's lack of precautions against the coronavirus.

Investigation followed complaints

James opened an investigation into Amazon in March following complaints about the lack of precautions taken to protect employees at New York facilities amid the pandemic. The investigation was later broadened to examine whether Amazon unlawfully fired or disciplined employees who reported these safety concerns.

Amazon had also fired two employees who criticized the company's warehouse operations and climate policies. Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, both user experience designers, said on Twitter in April that the company had dismissed them.

The two were part of a group of white-collar workers, called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, that had pushed the company to implement more environmentally friendly policies

Cunningham and Costa also had openly criticized Amazon's treatment of warehouse workers in recent weeks, including tweeting a petition calling for expanded sick leave, higher pay and a shutdown of facilities where Amazon workers had tested positive for the coronavirus. They and other workers also raised funds for warehouse workers who needed to self-quarantine.

In a statement at the time, an Amazon spokesperson said the women were fired "for repeatedly violating internal policies."

"We support every employee's right to criticize their employer's working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies," the statement said. 

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