The New York State Attorney General’s Office has interviewed workers at Amazon’s few warehouses in the state because allegations of retaliation have become central to its investigation into the company’s labor practices,media CNBC reported. New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote to Amazon in April saying it was investigating whether the company violated federal employment laws or the state’s reporting laws by firing a worker who organized a strike at a Staten Island plant. The move, which led a protest for an employee named Chris Smalls, called on Amazon to close its warehouses and put in place more security measures in response to concerns among warehouse workers across the united states.
The letter calls on Amazon to reinstate Smalls and asks it to turn over all internal communications dating back to February 1 in connection with worker complaints, protests and organizational efforts.
At the end of March, James’ office began contacting Amazon workers at the New York-area warehouse. So far, they say, they have spoken to workers from facilities on Staten Island, Queens and Bethpage, and are adding more facilities to their rosters as complaints are received.
The conversation involved Amazon’s safety practices during the New Crown virus pandemic, including enforcing the rules of keeping social distance, workers gaining access to personal protective equipment, and recording confirmed cases of new crowns at facilities. By gathering the information, the office wants to create a case of Amazon retaliating against workers who say warehouse conditions, according to some people familiar with the matter.
The New York attorney general’s office declined to comment. Amazon did not respond to questions about the office’s investigation, but cited measures it took to protect the health and safety of workers, including temperature checks, tests, gloves, masks and extended wages and benefits. Amazon says it has been following guidance from public health agencies.
“We are saddened by the tragic impact COVID-19 has had on communities around the world, including on some Amazon team members and their families and friends. An Amazon spokesman said in a statement. Amazon has laid off at least six employees and put four workers on the list who have been outspoken critics of the company’s labor practices or participated in protests. The company has previously questioned claims that workers were fired for outspokenness, saying they were fired for violating internal policy.
James’ office has contacted Amazon to confirm complaints it has received from some workers. Until recently, Amazon did not cooperate with the office’s request for information, according to people familiar with the investigation. Other groups are also pressing Amazon to release information about its New York warehouse. Last week, three JFK8 workers filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that it was blocking efforts to stop the spread of the virus and putting productivity ahead of safety, making the Staten Island warehouse a “dangerous place.” Frank Kearl, a lawyer for Make the Road in New York, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of workers with several labor rights groups, said he was not surprised that Amazon did not fully cooperate with the office’s investigation.
“Amazon’s entire system is built on an iron fist that controls everything,” Kearl says. “When it comes to workers, they use this information imbalance to serve themselves. “
Workers say they have been retaliated against for pushing for better security in the warehouse. Some employees claim to have received written warnings after attending protests or raising their concerns with management and filing complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Amazon’s Queens warehouse, one of the warehouses being investigated by James’s office, filed a complaint with the NLRB.