New York accuses Amazon of backsliding over worker safety, seeks monitor By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City, January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York state’s attorney general on Tuesday asked a state judge to appoint a monitor to oversee worker safety at an Amazon.com Inc (NASDAQ:) fulfillment center in New York City, citing the retailer’s alleged rollbacks of COVID-19 safety measures that were “already inadequate.”

Letitia James, the attorney general, also wants a court order requiring the rehiring of Christian Smalls, who Amazon fired for allegedly violating a paid quarantine by leading a March 2020 protest over conditions at the Staten Island facility.

Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

James, a Democrat running to become New York governor, sued Amazon in February in a New York state court in Manhattan over its safety protocols for thousands of workers at the Staten Island facility and a distribution center in the New York City borough of Queens.

She said Amazon is valuing profit over safety and “acting as if the pandemic is over” by rolling back safety protocols even as the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus threatens to increase transmission rates.

The alleged rollbacks include making the Staten Island facility “mask-optional” for vaccinated workers while not requiring masks for unvaccinated workers, and failing to enforce social distancing.

In her motion for a preliminary injunction, James said the proposed monitor would oversee upgraded cleaning, hygiene and social distancing procedures.

“While case rates, hospitalizations, and deaths rise, Amazon rescinds protections and packs in more workers for its holiday rush,” James said in her motion. “Amazon’s ongoing – and worsening – failure to protect workers must be halted.”

The Seattle-based company is appealing a New York state judge’s refusal in October to dismiss James’ lawsuit.

Amazon on Nov. 15 reached a separate settlement with California to resolve claims it violated a state “right-to-know” law by concealing from warehouse workers and local health agencies the numbers of workers being infected with COVID-19.

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