Amazon Workers Are Suing The Company Over Its Pandemic Response

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A group of three Amazon workers at its Staten Island facility, dubbed JFK8, are now suing the company over its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Summarily, the workers are reportedly alleging that Amazon's internal actions and statements run counter to state-level guidelines and laws.

The lead plaintiff, Derrick Palmer, says that Amazon told him to go back to work as normal, for instance. That was after Mr. Palmer told the company he had been in contact with a supervisor who had tested positive for the disease. He and the other two plaintiffs allege that Amazon also isn't following even basic hygiene standards. And that's setting aside providing properly cleaned workstations.

Furthermore, the suit claims, Amazon isn't clearly telling workers what to do if they believe they are sick.

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When workers are sick, Amazon has allegedly deterred staff from sharing tests and made it difficult to obtain quarantine leave benefits. For those that have attained benefits, the suit alleges that Amazon's May decision to resume more traditional leave policies are interfering with those benefits. The employees assert Amazon has made it impossible to obtain and keep getting the quarantine-related leave benefits.

Among the policies Amazon is enacting related to the pandemic, workers and their representation allege that its examination of surveillance footage as part of contact tracing amid the pandemic falls woefully short. That's because the surveillance is only kept for 24-hours, short of the 48-hours recommended by the CDC. And that doesn't cover high-contact areas such as "washrooms" or contact associated with carpooling or in areas outside of the internal facilities.

The employees are not seeking any financial compensation in the suit but are instead looking for enforcement of the standards. In effect, they are looking to force Amazon to comply to standards it claims publicly to be following. Make the Road New York, Public Justice, and Towards Justice are backing the workers.

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How many Amazon workers have been impacted by the pandemic

Now, Amazon has not provided up-to-date figures regarding how many of its employees have been affected by COVID-19. But it has been informing its employees of new cases, at least across the US. The suit claims that Amazon goes so far as to tell employees to avoid telling others if they've contracted the disease.

That's led to some workers and others joining together to keep a running tally of cases via an unofficial spreadsheet. Redditor "u/Mishie_" regularly updates the document.

As of the last count, shared June 8, the total number of confirmed cases has risen to 1,532 with nine deaths at Amazon. Of course, that's an unofficial figure and likely contains flaws. But, setting that aside, in New York the figures have risen to 106 cases and two deaths.

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It's not clear whether those figures will surface in the case of workers suing Amazon for its handling of the pandemic. Or how those figures compare to national averages and expectations for a company following protocol.

Critics contend that Amazon is not, in effect, following those guidelines at all and that its efforts have been split. Chiefly, the court documents contest, that split has been between confronting the problem and keeping a lid on the figures as well as the spread and contact tracing.

Amazon's response to the lawsuit directly contradicts the workers

To Amazon's credit, the company has released numerous statements indicating that not only does it follow federal and local health guidelines. The sources of that guidance include the CDC, WHO, internal health and safety experts, and at least one independent epidemiologist. It also has had state health and safety inspections since March and passed those on-site inspections at all 91 facilities.

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The company also says it is following CDC guidance surrounding contact tracing. That process includes a review of camera footage and employee data to determine where employees were and for how long. The goal, of course, is to determine who the employees were in contact with. Amazon further says it conducts interviews with affected individuals.

In terms of handling cases where positive test results are returned, the company says it has offered two weeks paid leave for any diagnosis or quarantine. That's starting from April and into June. That's in addition to the launch of a $25 million fund to support partners and contractors. And that's separate from its $800 million investment in the first half of this year on safety measures. Those include "temperature checks, masks, gloves, enhanced cleaning and sanitization, extended pay and benefits options, testing, and more."

Total investments from April to June tallied up to $4 billion the company says.

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So it remains to be seen if its counter-argument is enough to sway a judge. Or if the initial complaint is enough to warrant a closer investigation of its practices.