New York Attorney General Letitia James on Tuesday sued Amazon.com Inc over its handling of worker safety issues around the COVID-19 pandemic at two warehouses, just days after the retailer filed its own lawsuit seeking to block her case.
In a complaint filed in a New York state court in Manhattan, James said that Amazon’s drive for faster growth and higher profits led to its “flagrant disregard” of steps needed to protect workers from the novel coronavirus at a Staten Island fulfillment center and a Queens distribution center, both in New York City.
James also accused Amazon of illegally retaliating when employees began to complain, including in March last year, when it fired activist Christian Smalls purportedly for breaching a paid quarantine when he led a protest over conditions at the Staten Island warehouse.
“Throughout the historic pandemic, Amazon has repeatedly and persistently failed to comply with its obligation to institute reasonable and adequate measures to protect its workers,” the lawsuit said.
“Amazon has cut corners in complying with the particular requirements that would most jeopardize its sales volume and productivity rates,” it added.
James sued four days after Amazon filed its own lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court to stop her from suing.
Amazon said in its lawsuit that federal labor and safety laws took precedence over New York’s in addressing workplace safety, and that James was overstepping her authority.
“We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees, as demonstrated in our filing,” Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said in response to James’ lawsuit.
“We don’t believe the attorney general’s filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic,” Nantel added.
Amazon also faced scrutiny in March last year when workers protested conditions at the Staten Island warehouse.
The attorney general’s lawsuit seeks to require Amazon to upgrade its protections for workers, reinstate Smalls, and pay damages to him and another worker who allegedly faced retaliation.
Separately, Amazon has quietly purchased the Australian-based e-commerce platform Selz, which enables businesses to build their own online stores.
The deal, terms of which were not disclosed, was made last month and confirmed by Selz in a blog post.
US media reported the acquisition on Tuesday.
Selz’s operations could help Amazon fend off challenges from the fast-growing Canadian-based firm Shopify, which offers a similar service to retailers.
Selz founder and CEO Martin Rushe said in the blog that the company had “signed an agreement to be acquired by Amazon and are looking forward to working with them as we continue to build easy-to-use tools for entrepreneurs.”
Contacted by Agence France-Presse, Amazon confirmed the acquisition, but declined to comment on any future plans for the platform.
Additional reporting by AFP
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