13 US Attorneys General Push Amazon on Whistleblower Firing, Health and Safety Protocols

Thirteen U.S. attorneys generals want Amazon to answer some questions.

In a Tuesday letter addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, AGs for states including Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois, asked the company to address a number of possible issues, including a purported lack of personal protective equipment for workers as well as alleged whistleblower firings.

To protect workers from contracting the virus, Amazon has said in previous statements that it has staggered shifts, placed markings on its floors and added signage to remind employees to social distance. It has also increased the frequency of cleaning at all sites, including of high-touch surfaces such as elevator buttons, door and stairway handles and touch screens, according to the company. Additionally, the e-tail behemoth said it has been conducting temperature checks and providing face masks and hand sanitizer to employees in warehouses in the U.S. and Europe as well as in its Whole Foods stores.

In an emailed statement to FN today, an Amazon spokesperson said that safety is the company’s “top priority” and that it is “committed to ensuring a clean and safe workplace.”

“We’ve implemented over 150 significant process changes — from enhanced cleaning and social distancing measures to new efforts like disinfectant spraying,” the statement read. “We’ll continue to invest in safety, pay, and benefits for our teams who are playing an invaluable role in getting items to communities around the world.”

Despite Amazon’s measures, the AGs said they were “dismayed to have heard multiple reports of Amazon warehouses with inadequate PPE and hand sanitizer, inability to practice social distancing, limited opportunity to wash hands, and other deficiencies that put employees at risk.” In turn, they asked Bezos and Mackey to provide a written response regarding how Amazon’s policies comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guidelines. Additionally, they requested specific Amazon data regarding how many employees have been infected with and died from COVID-19.

A group of 15 U.S. AGs, including all but two of the same signatories on yesterday’s letter, wrote to Amazon in late March with the “principal request” that it “adopt a more generous paid leave policy.” Specifically, they asked that Amazon expand its two-week paid sick leave policy and provide 12 weeks of leave at a two-thirds pay rate to full-time and part-time employees who are unable to come into work because of the coronavirus.

In yesterday’s note, the AGs said they were “deeply disappointed” with Amazon’s  purported”failure” to meet the request. Further, the signatories asked Amazon to “extend their unlimited unpaid leave policies for as long as a state or federal state of emergency exists in each of our states.”

Additionally the AGs asked Amazon to address allegations that the company has fired employees for calling attention to perceived inadequacies in safety and health procedures. For instance, in March, Christian Small, an employee at Amazon’s Staten Island, N.Y. warehouse, was fired shortly after leading a protest in response to a coworker contracting COVID-19. According to Amazon, Smalls was terminated after receiving “multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines.”

“Despite assurances by [Amazon’s] representatives in our communications that [Amazon does] not and would not retaliate against employees who raise concerns about COVID-19 and [Amazon’s] responses to it, there have been disturbing media reports alleging such retaliation by Amazon,” the AGs wrote. They asked the company “to encourage all employees to raise health and safety concerns and to provide an affirmative assurance of their rights not to be retaliated against for raising these concerns with management, the media or coworkers.”

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