NYC congressional Dems tag onto lawsuit accusing Amazon of putting Staten Island workers in coronavirus danger

In this file photo, a woman works at Amazon's fulfillment center in Staten Island.
In this file photo, a woman works at Amazon's fulfillment center in Staten Island. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

Six congressional Democrats from New York City are providing legal ammunition for Amazon workers on Staten Island who are suing the retail giant over allegations that it put them at risk of contracting coronavirus, the Daily News has learned.
The Big Apple lawmakers, led by Rep. Nydia Velazquez, filed a so-called amicus brief late Wednesday in Brooklyn Federal Court that offers official congressional support for the lawsuit, which was brought by three workers at Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center, where at least one employee has died from COVID-19.
The workers allege Amazon hasn’t maintained city-mandated social distancing guidelines at the warehouse, done a poor job of testing employees and promulgated a work-while-sick culture. They also say the company hasn’t given workers proper access to hand sanitizer and other cleaning products.
Velazquez noted that the workers aren’t seeking monetary compensation. Rather, they just want a federal judge to issue an order requiring Amazon to do a better job at protecting them amid the pandemic, the congresswoman said.

“Amazon has made tremendous profits during this terrible pandemic as more people purchase items online,” Velazquez told The News. “However, it has become tragically clear that this giant corporation is willing to imperil the health and safety of its own workers, their families and the surrounding community to benefit its bottom line. Today, we are imploring the court to intervene and provide relief that protects employees from getting sick.”

Joining Velazquez in filing the motion were Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jerry Nadler, Max Rose, Grace Meng and Adriano Espaillat.

In addition to the New York City pols, another 10 federal lawmakers from across the country joined in on the action, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Adding more pressure on Amazon, the UNI Global Union and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union filed a separate amicus brief in the case.

“Amazon needs to listen to its workers who are at risk during this global pandemic and working under unacceptable conditions,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of RWDSU. "Amazon needs to prioritize the lives and safety of their workers over profits.”

Deborah Bass, an Amazon spokeswoman, defended the company’s safety protocols and said it has invested $4 billion on “COVID-related initiatives” at its facilities. Bass did not respond directly to the allegations contained in the lawsuit.

The Staten Island workers filed the suit last Wednesday along with three relatives who are concerned that they may have been exposed to the virus because of Amazon’s alleged protocol violations at the facility, which is known as JFK8 and has more than 5,000 employees.

One of the workers, Barbara Chandler, contracted the virus and brought it home to her family, according to the suit.

“Less than a month later, she awoke to find her cousin, with whom she lived, dead in their bathroom after he had become ill with COVID-19 symptoms,” court papers say.

Amazon has faced other coronavirus-related controversy relating to the JFK8 facility.

In March, workers staged a walkout to demand better protections amid the virus, which has killed more than 17,100 people in New York City.

Velazquez said Amazon is putting the entire city in danger by not protecting its Staten Island workers.

“Workers at JFK8 live throughout all five boroughs of New York,” she said. “When they are exposed to unsafe conditions and heightened risk of COVID-19, it puts our entire city at risk of greater spread.”

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