California probing Amazon worker treatment during pandemic, court says

Credit: REUTERS/PASCAL ROSSIGNOL

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has opened an investigation into steps that Amazon.com Inc has taken to protect its workers from the new coronavirus, according to a court filing on Monday.

By Diane Bartz and Paresh Dave

WASHINGTON, July 27 (Reuters) - California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has opened an investigation into steps that Amazon.com Inc AMZN.O has taken to protect its workers from the new coronavirus, according to a court filing on Monday.

The attorney general's office, California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the San Francisco Department of Public Health "have all opened investigations into Amazon's practices" around the pandemic, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman wrote in Monday's filing.

Amazon and the government agencies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The filing came in a court case brought by Chiyomi Brent, who is described as a picker at Amazon's San Francisco Fulfillment Center who fills orders. The lawsuit contends Amazon has put workers at "needless risk" by having them share equipment such as freezer suits and not allowing extra time in order to respect social distancing.

Schulman on Monday refused to issue a preliminary injunction that would have closed the warehouse until more precautions are taken. He said Brent had failed to show immediate harm was possible and that three government bodies investigating Amazon were better suited to handle her concerns.

Cal/OSHA and SFDPH have both visited Amazon's San Francisco facility within the last weeks, Schulman wrote in his ruling.

Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, faced criticism for working conditions in its warehouses even before the coronavirus hit, and in April was accused of firing three critics of the company's pandemic response.

The company has grown in importance as U.S. consumers have sought to shop online to avoid the coronavirus, which has killed more than 146,00 Americans.

Amazon has argued in court papers that it has taken many steps to protect workers, including extensive cleaning and disinfecting of the San Francisco facility and equipment, including freezer suits, requiring masks and social distancing, among other steps. In a statement earlier this month, an Amazon official said he was unaware of any coronavirus cases at the facility.

New York Attorney General Letitia James's office sent a letter to Amazon in April saying the gigantic e-retailer may have violated safety measures and labor practices amid the coronavirus pandemic. The letter came after Amazon terminated Christian Smalls, a critic of the company's warehouse conditions in the pandemic, for violating a paid quarantine.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Additional reporting by Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif.; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)

((paresh.dave@thomsonreuters.com; 415-565-1302;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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