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Workers Blast Amazon’s Suggestion to Take Up COVID-19 Concerns With OSHA

Workers concerned about COVID-19 risks at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse are biting back at the company’s suggestion to defer to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

According to a motion filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Derrick Palmer, Kendia Mesidor and five other employees accused Amazon of failing to keep safe its JFK8 fulfillment center in New York amid the coronavirus pandemic. This, they told U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, resulted in the death of at least one person as well as allowed the outbreak to spread past the facility and into the homes of employees’ and their families.

The workers alleged that Amazon urged them to take up their concerns with OSHA, which the workers described as “an agency that has affirmatively decided to ride out the pandemic on the sidelines and whose expertise is, in any event, not needed here.” The workers further argued that their claims were grounded in state law instead of federal workplace safety laws and regulations, thus not involving OSHA, which is a division of the Department of Labor.

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“Not only does this case not call upon OSHA’s special expertise, it does not even attempt to enforce the laws that OSHA is charged with enforcing — or federal law at all,” the filing stated. “Plaintiffs’ state law claims rely principally on New York’s ‘minimum requirements’ for businesses operating during the pandemic and New York leave law … It defies reason and the principles of federalism to suggest that when New York promulgated those requirements it surrendered its jurisdiction to enforce them to a federal agency.”

Two weeks ago, Amazon filed a motion to dismiss the employees’ claims. It argued that the employees who filed the suit failed to “plausibly allege” that its workplace practices uniquely create a risk of contracting the virus. It added that their public nuisance claims, which suggest a risk to public health as a result of allegedly insufficient COVID-19 protocols at the warehouse, cannot be traced back to Amazon due to New York City’s high population numbers and oft-crowded public transportation system.

In an amended complaint filed last month, the plaintiffs called on the judge to call Amazon’s coronavirus health and safety measures a “public nuisance.” They sought a court order that would grant them access to 48 hours of paid time off as well as at least 14 days of paid COVID-19 leave, plus damages.

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