Enlarge /. Amazon employees are protesting conditions at the company's sales facility in Staten Island on March 30, 2020.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
New York Attorney General Letitia James was not impressed by Amazon's response to the coronavirus crisis.
"As we continue to investigate, the information available to us raises concerns that Amazon's health and safety measures in response to the COVID 19 pandemic are so inadequate that they may violate multiple provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act," he said James staff wrote in a letter dated April 22, which was first received by the National Public Radio.
The crisis has led to increasing demand for Amazon delivery services. Since Amazon has hired an additional 175,000 employees to fulfill orders, it has also been criticized for its security practices. Last month, several workers (Amazon counted 15, organizers claimed 60) protested in front of a huge Amazon fulfillment center on Staten Island. Amazon has also seen sporadic online protests in the past few weeks.
Staten Island protesters wanted their facility to be closed for thorough cleaning. Amazon workers have also called for universal paid sick leave and increased efforts to keep workers separate during working hours.
But Amazon says it does everything it can to protect its employees from the corona virus.
"We have made over 150 process updates – from improved cleaning and social distance measures to new measures like spraying disinfectants," spokeswoman Ars said by email. "We distributed personal protective equipment such as masks to our employees and carried out disinfection spray and temperature tests in our global operations."
"Many workers are afraid"
In their letter, New York officials also questioned Amazon's decision to fire Chris Smalls, one of the organizers of the protest against Staten Island. Smalls accused Amazon of taking revenge on him for his organizational efforts. Amazon insists that Smalls was fired for refusing an order to stay at home after contacting an infected colleague.
James' office writes that her results so far have "raised serious concerns that Amazon may have dismissed (Smalls) to silence his complaints and send an impending message to other employees that they are also concerned about health and safety issues Security concerns should be silent ".
"This office has learned that many workers are afraid to speak about their concerns after Mr. Smalls' employment ends," the letter added. "This is a particularly dangerous message to send during a pandemic when a daunting speech by workers about health and safety practices can literally be a matter of life and death."
But Amazon says it didn't go wrong.
"We did not terminate Mr. Smalls' appointment because of the organization of a 15-person protest," Amazon said in an email. "We quit his job because we put other people's health and safety at risk and he violated his terms of employment. Mr. Smalls received several warnings about violating the social distance policy."
According to Amazon, Smalls was instructed to stay at home 14 days after contacting a colleague who had COVID-19, and Smalls nevertheless came to work to lead the protest.
Whatever the reason for Smalls' termination, a leaked internal memo suggests that Amazon may have followed a deliberate strategy to make it the face of the workers organized at Amazon.
"He's not smart or articulate, and to the extent that the press wants to focus on us towards him, we're going to be in a much stronger PR position than just explaining for the umpteenth time how we're trying to to protect workers, "the general from Amazon's lawyer wrote.