New York Attorney General Letitia James responded forcefully on Friday to Amazon's preemptive lawsuit intended to block her from taking legal action against the behemoth corporation over workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic and allegedly retaliating against warehouse workers involved in a walkout last spring.
"We remain undeterred in our efforts to protect workers from exploitation."
—New York Attorney General Letitia James
"Throughout this pandemic, Amazon employees have been forced to work in unsafe conditions, all while the company and its CEO made billions off of their backs," James said in a statement about the suit. "This action by Amazon is nothing more than a sad attempt to distract from the facts and shirk accountability for its failures to protect hardworking employees from a deadly virus."
"Let me be clear: We will not be intimidated by anyone, especially corporate bullies that put profits over the health and safety of working people," the state attorney general added. "We remain undeterred in our efforts to protect workers from exploitation and will continue to review all of our legal options."
Amazon on Friday filed a federal suit in the Eastern District Court of New York. The complaint, according to Bloomberg, says James' office "has threatened to sue if the retail giant doesn't comply with a list of demands, which include subsidizing public bus service and reducing production targets required of workers in its warehouses."
The legal action filed by @amazon today is a sad attempt to shirk accountability for its failures to protect hardworking employees from a deadly virus.
We won't be intimidated by anyone, especially corporate bullies that put profits over the health and safety of working people.
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) February 12, 2021
As Bloomberg reports:
The company's complaint also amounts to a lengthy and detailed defense of its actions to protect employees, including a day-by-day chronicle of safety measures it rolled out as the respiratory virus spread around the U.S. in March and April.
"Amazon has been intensely focused on Covid-19 safety and has taken extraordinary, industry-leading measures grounded in science, above and beyond government guidance and requirements, to protect its associates from Covid-19," the company said in its complaint.
James launched an investigation into Amazon after workers—including organizer Chris Smalls, who was later fired—protested conditions at a Staten Island warehouse. The state AG said at the time that "it is disgraceful that Amazon would terminate an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues."
Amazon spokesperson Kristen Kish told the New York Times in April that Smalls was not terminated as retaliation for his organizing but rather "for putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of his employment," because he returned to the facility during a paid 14-day quarantine after having contact with someone who was sick.
The Seattle-based company was founded by the world's richest person, Jeff Bezos, whose wealth has surged during the pandemic. Bezos, who announced this month that he will step down as Amazon's CEO later this year and transition to the role of executive chair, had a net worth of $189.5 billion as of Friday, according to Forbes.
In December 2020, shortly after a global coalition of workers and activists took to the streets on Black Friday to launch the #MakeAmazonPay campaign, 401 lawmakers from 34 countries endorsed the effort with an open letter to Bezos, putting him "on notice that Amazon's days of impunity are over."
This post has been updated to remove reporting by the New York Daily News and add reporting from the New York Times about Chris Smalls.