Amazon’s Covid-19 Worker Safety Battle With New York Escalates

The legal battle between Inc. and New York Attorney General Letitia James over the company’s Covid-19 precautions for workers has escalated as both sides asked a judge to rule in their favor.

Amazon sued James in February, seeking to block New York from pursuing claims that the company failed to protect employees from the virus in its New York City facilities. In a motion filed Friday, James asked U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan in Brooklyn to throw out the federal lawsuit and allow New York to pursue its claims in state court.

“Amazon has repeatedly and persistently failed to comply with its obligation under New York law to institute reasonable and adequate measures to protect its workers from the spread of the virus in its New York City facilities,” James said in the court filing. “Amazon’s flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements has threatened serious illness and grave harm to the thousands of workers and poses a continued substantial and specific danger to the public health.”

Also Friday, Amazon asked the judge to block New York’s state suit with a ruling that James lacks the legal authority to regulate Amazon’s safety responses to Covid-19 or claims of Amazon’s New York employees that they were retaliated against for protesting their working conditions.

Amazon claimed it has spent more than $11.5 billion on Covid-related changes to protect worker safety and ensure customer deliveries. James’s office has spent more than a year in an illegal attempt “to subject Amazon’s JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island and DBK1 delivery station in Queens to state oversight of activities governed exclusively by federal law and enforced by federal regulators,” the company said in its court filing.

The dispute focuses on the supplemental role of states to regulate workplaces in addition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is the federal agency with primary responsibility for worker health and safety in the U.S.

Cogan last year threw out a suit filed by Staten Island warehouse workers who claimed Amazon’s failure to protect them from the virus amounted to a public nuisance. The federal appeals court in New York is reviewing Cogan’s decision.

The case is Inc. v. James, 21-cv-00767, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

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