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Judge Dismisses Amazon Workers’ Suit Alleging Insufficient COVID-19 Protections

A lawsuit targeting Amazon’s alleged lack of COVID-19 protections has been dismissed by a federal judge.

On Sunday, New York’s Judge Brian Cogan ruled that the complaint raised by workers at the e-commerce behemoth’s Staten Island warehouse should’ve been brought to the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. According to the judge, the employees’ claims and proposed injunctive relief “go to the heart of OSHA’s expertise and discretion.”

“This case concerns state and federal guidance addressing workplace safety during a pandemic for which there is no immediate end in sight. Regulating in the age of COVID-19 is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter fraught with medical and scientific uncertainty. There is room for significant disagreement as to the necessity or wisdom of any particular workplace policy or practice,” he wrote. “Courts are not expert in public health or workplace safety matters and lack the training, expertise and resources to oversee compliance with evolving industry guidance.”

Early in the pandemic, Amazon was scrutinized for its safety measures as COVID-19 cases began to tick up across the United States. The company had released several statements outlining its safety measures, including what it described as enhanced protocols such as providing gloves, masks and other PPE at its facilities. In June, however, a group of seven workers in various roles at the Seattle-based retailer’s JFK8 warehouse filed the aforementioned suit, which accused the company of “public nuisance” and creating unsafe conditions that allowed the novel coronavirus to spread across the facility. They also claimed that it did not pay COVID-19 leave in a timely manner.

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A statement released by the legal team for the plaintiffs said the ruling was “devastating for the health and safety of Amazon workers nationwide. The court’s deference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should be very concerning to anyone who cares about the health of American workers, given that OSHA has been virtually AWOL throughout this crisis.” It added that the employees were weighing an appeal of the decision.

Last month, Amazon announced that 19,816 employees have either tested positive or been presumed positive for COVID-19. It said it conducted a “thorough analysis of data” on all of its 1,372,000 United States-based Amazon and Whole Foods Market frontline workers who were employed at any time from March 1 to Sept. 19. Based on the study, it estimated that it would have seen 33,952 cases among its workforce if the rate was the same as it was for the general population.

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our employees, which is why at the onset of the pandemic we moved quickly to make more than 150 COVID-19 related process changes,” Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti told FN. “We continue to innovate, learn and improve the measures we have in place to protect our teams … in addition to supplying masks, gloves, thermal cameras, thermometers, disinfectant spraying in buildings, increased janitorial teams, additional hand-washing stations, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes and piloting COVID testing at many of our sites.”

This story has been updated with a statement from Amazon.

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