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California sues to force Amazon to comply with COVID-19 probe

California has been requesting information from Amazon since May over its treatment of workers amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
California has been requesting information from Amazon since May over its treatment of workers amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 14 (UPI) -- California Attorney General Xavier Becerra asked the court on Monday to force Amazon to hand over information concerning his investigation into whether the e-commerce giant has been complying with the state's COVID-19 restrictions.

Becerra began his investigation into the company in May seeking information concerning working conditions at its California facilities due to "unique and potentially dangerous conditions" in warehouses amid the coronavirus pandemic, the court document filed on Monday with the Superior Court of the State of California in Sacramento County said.

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The Democratic attorney general asked for the information in May but served the retail behemoth investigation subpoenas in August after it failed to provide the information he had repeatedly requested for.

"It has been nearly six months since the attorney general's initial request to Amazon for information regarding its COVID-19-related data, policies, practices and procedures for its California facilities and workers. The slow drip of information from Amazon is an insufficient response," the lawsuit reads. "Absent the requested data, the attorney general is unable to adequately determine if Amazon is complying with applicable California law."

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The lawsuit said the request of the court was made after the state engaged in "a series of good faith meet and confer efforts with the company" -- a period in which Becerra learned more about the company's practices from media reports and press releases than from Amazon itself.

"Amazon has made billions during this pandemic relying on the labor of essential workers," Becerra said in a statement. "It's critical to know if these workers are receiving the protections on the job that they are entitled to under the law."

"Time is of the essence," he said.

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The lawsuit explains that California has reduced the scope of its investigative subpoenas from around 150 facilities to seven and that the state warned Amazon in early December to comply with the request.

Amazon has been contacted for comment.

California has been the worst affected state by the virus in the sickest country to the pandemic, with health officials on Monday reporting nearly 1.6 million infections and more than 21,000 deaths. In an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the state has issued strict measures, including specifically for warehousing facilities.

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In October, Amazon disclosed that nearly 20,000 workers nationwide had contracted the virus between March and mid-September.

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Amazon, along with others that have seen profits rise during the pandemic, have received criticism from workers and advocacy groups concerning its treatment of employees who've planned walkouts and demanded an increase in benefits.

President-elect Joe Biden has also tapped Becerra to be his Department of Health and Human Services secretary in the new administration.

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