California investigates Amazon's treatment of workers during pandemic


Amazon is under investigation in California for failing to protect its warehouse employees from the new coronavirus.

California’s attorney general Xavier Becerra, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, and the San Francisco department of public health “have all opened investigations into Amazon’s practices” around the pandemic, San Francisco superior court judge Ethan Schulman wrote in a court filing on Monday.

Amazon and the government agencies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The online retailer is accused of putting workers at “needless risk” by having them share equipment, such as freezer suits, and not allowing extra time in order to respect social distancing, the filing said. The filing originates from a case brought by Chiyomi Brent, a worker at Amazon’s San Francisco fulfillment center.

Schulman on Monday refused to issue a preliminary injunction that would have closed the warehouse Brent works at until more precautions are taken. He said Brent had failed to show immediate harm was possible and that three government bodies investigating Amazon were better suited to handle her concerns.

SFDPH told Schulman that Amazon‘s practices at the San Francisco facility had improved between visits on 7 July and 16 July, while Cal/OSHA told the judge its investigation is ongoing following a 14 July inspection.

The attorney general’s office told the court last week that its statewide Amazon investigation, which dates back to at least May, also is ongoing.

As millions of Americans sheltered in place in early 2020, Amazon saw orders for home goods skyrocket, fueled by customers who were no longer shopping at brick and mortar stores. Meanwhile, workers fulfilling these orders say they lacked adequate protection from coronavirus infections.

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In April, Amazon was accused of firing three critics of the company’s pandemic response and workers participated in a nationwide sick-out. The workers claimed Amazon failed to provide enough face masks for workers, did not implement regular temperature checks at warehouses as it promised, and has refused to give workers paid sick leave.

Amazon has refused to publicly release numbers of Covid-19 infections, but workers began to track the numbers themselves using a tool from worker advocacy group United for Respect. According to that count, there have been more than 80 reports of Covid-19 cases in the state of California since March.

Amazon has argued in court papers that it has taken many steps to protect workers, extensively cleaning and disinfecting the San Francisco facility and equipment – including freezer suits – requiring masks and social distancing, among other steps. In a statement earlier this month, an Amazon official said he was unaware of any coronavirus cases at the facility.

New York attorney general Letitia James’s office sent a letter to Amazon in April saying the gigantic e-retailer may have violated safety measures and labor practices amid the coronavirus pandemic. The letter came after Amazon terminated Christian Smalls, a critic of the company’s warehouse conditions in the pandemic, for violating a paid quarantine.



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