U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, and at least 14 other Democratic members of Congress planned to ask a court to require greater COVID-19 safety measures at an Amazon warehouse in New York, in a legal brief supporting workers who sued the company last week.
Employees at Amazon’s Staten Island distribution center known as JFK8 alleged in the suit that the company did not adequately inform them of disease outbreaks in the facility and maintained “oppressive” productivity requirements, among other conditions that contributed to the spread of COVID-19 and the death of one of the plaintiffs’ family members.
The lawmakers urged the judge to issue an emergency injunction under New York state labor law and common law, citing inaction by federal workplace safety regulators and noting their own legislative efforts will “take time to enact and implement.”
“This situation calls out for the Court’s intervention to require Amazon to use its ingenuity to put in place work processes that offer the basic protections necessary to limit the danger of COVID-19 to not only Amazon’s workforce, but to those who live with that workforce, and to the broader community,” the lawmakers wrote in an amicus brief. The brief was to be filed Tuesday evening but was delayed until Wednesday as more lawmakers added their names to it in support.
Those supporting it include Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nydia Velázquez, Jerrold Nadler and Adriano Espaillat of New York; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who sought the Democratic presidential nomination.
Amazon said it complies with all state and federal workplace safety laws and followed guidance from local and federal health officials in its handling of the pandemic. It said 91 of its facilities have been inspected by state regulatory agencies since March, and each one has passed.
“We are saddened by the tragic impact COVID-19 has had on communities across the globe, including on some Amazon team members and their family and friends,” Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski said in a statement.
She recounted measures the company has taken in response to the pandemic, including an unlimited unpaid time off policy, discontinued May 1, though leave is still available for vulnerable populations or those caring for family members; and a projected $4 billion in spending on COVID-19 during the current quarter, on top of $800 million in the first quarter, for things like masks, gloves, enhanced cleaning and extended pay and benefits.