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N.Y. sues Amazon for failing to protect workers from COVID-19

New York Attorney General Letitia James said in her suit Wednesday that Amazon has valued profit over people since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
New York Attorney General Letitia James said in her suit Wednesday that Amazon has "valued profit over people" since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Less than a week after it was pre-emptively sued by retail giant Amazon, the state of New York on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the company for endangering workers and failing to provide them COVID-19 protections.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the suit, which accuses Amazon of failing to provide adequate coronavirus health and safety protocols at its distribution centers in the state.

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Anticipating the move, the company sued the state last week in an effort to head off the legal action.

James says Amazon did not provide workers a safe working environment and subsequently retaliated against employees who complained.

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"While Amazon and its CEO made billions during this crisis, hardworking employees were forced to endure unsafe conditions and were retaliated against for rightfully voicing these concerns," James said in a statement announcing the suit.

"Since the pandemic began, it is clear that Amazon has valued profit over people and has failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers."

In her suit, James noted that former Amazon worker Christian Smalls was fired from the retailer's Staten Island warehouse a year ago after he organized a labor walkout over the issue.

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Smalls said workers weren't given protective gear and Amazon failed to notify them that several co-workers tested positive. He later filed his own suit against Amazon opposing his dismissal.

Amazon said that Smalls was fired for flouting COVID-19 safeguards.

"The workers who have powered this country and kept it going during the pandemic are the very workers who continue to be treated the worst," James added.

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"As we seek to hold Amazon accountable for its actions, my office remains dedicated to protecting New York workers from exploitation and unfair treatment in all forms."

Amazon said in its filing last week that James lacks authority to bring the lawsuit, which it contends lies with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The company also said in its suit that James, who has called on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate Smalls' firing, would violate federal and state law if she intervened in the case.

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