Amazon Settles With California Over Worker Safety Tied to Covid
(Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc. will step up efforts to inform warehouse workers in California about safety protocols and Covid-19 outbreaks under a deal reached with the state’s attorney general.
The accord announced Monday requires Amazon to notify workers within one day and local health agencies with 48 hours about new Covid-19 cases in the workplace and pay $500,000 towards consumer protection enforcement in California, according to a statement from the office of Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Following an investigation into the retail giant’s pandemic safety policies that began last year under Bonta’s predecessor, the attorney general’s office filed a complaint against Amazon on Monday in state court in Sacramento alongside a request for a judge’s approval of the settlement.
“As the company enjoyed booming and historic sales with its stock price doubling, Amazon failed to adequately notify warehouse workers and local health agencies of Covid -19 case numbers, often leaving them effectively unable to track the spread of the virus,” Bonta said at a press conference.
The goal is to bring Amazon’s Covid-19 workplace safety policies in line with a new state law, which took effect on Jan. 1, requiring employers to tell workers about potential coronavirus workplace exposures and report outbreaks to local authorities.
The state’s enforcement action is significant as it comes before the peak retail spree of the holiday season, Bonta said in the statement. “Today’s first-of-its-kind judgment will help ensure Amazon meets that requirement for its tens of thousands of warehouse workers across California,” he said.
Amazon said it’s pleased to have the matter resolved “and to see that the AG found no substantive issues with the safety measures in our buildings.”
“We’ve worked hard from the beginning of the pandemic to keep our employees safe and deliver for our customers— incurring more than $15 billion in costs to date—and we’ll keep doing that in months and years ahead,” the company said in a statement.
Amazon this month dropped its requirement that vaccinated warehouse workers wear masks, unless required to do so by local rules. The company hasn’t instituted a vaccine requirement, opting instead to use raffles and other incentives to nudge employees to get the jab. Workers suspect Amazon, working feverishly to attract new hires in a tight labor market, fears an exodus if the company was to require vaccination.
California is home to more Amazon employees than any other state. The company had more than 153,000 workers there at the end of last year, the vast majority of whom work in Amazon’s logistics division. The retailer, a major importer of products through southern California’s ports, operates dozens of warehouses in the state, including a crucial cluster in the Inland Empire region.
Some employees have criticized Amazon’s response to the coronavirus, saying they were asked to work in unsafe conditions and that the company was slow to adopt practices like mandatory temperature testing and masking. Company officials have defended their actions, saying they moved swiftly to acquire masks and other equipment for employees and that they followed the guidance of local and national health authorities.
In multiple instances, Amazon didn’t notify workers about Covid-19 cases or fully inform workers about plans to disinfect affected areas or benefits, including sick leave and anti-retaliation protections for those who speak up about workplace conditions, as required by the California Labor Code, according to the state’s suit.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.