Amazon sues New York's AG to stop a COVID-19 safety investigation

The company argued the AG's office lacks the authority to oversee workplace safety concerns.

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FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2019, file photo, Amazon packages move along a conveyor at an Amazon warehouse facility in Goodyear, Ariz. Amazon will report quarterly earnings on Thursday, APril 30, 2020, providing a first glimpse into its financial performance during the pandemic.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
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Amazon is suing New York Attorney General Letitia James over an investigation into COVID-19 safety concerns at two fulfillment centers. In the lawsuit, Amazon claims James' office is attempting to hold it to "an inconsistent and unfair standard for workplace safety that is pre-empted by federal law.” It urged a district court to stop the investigation. 

The company is seemingly aiming to fend off potential regulatory action from the AG's office, which it argues doesn't have the authority to investigate workplace safety matters. Amazon says those are regulated by federal law. 

The retail giant also said that James has disregarded the safety protocols Amazon has established amid the pandemic. A New York City inspector reported in March that the Staten Island warehouse, one of the fulfillment centers at the heart of the case, had "no areas of concern." 

In the suit, Amazon claims that James threatened to sue the company if it didn't meet her demands. Those reportedly included subsidizing bus rides and reinstating a worker Amazon fired last spring. Chris Smalls says he was dismissed for leading a warehouse protest, but the company says it fired him for attending the rally while on paid COVID-19 quarantine leave. Vice reported in April that Amazon executives planned to smear Smalls and make him "the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”

In a statement, James accused Amazon of trying to distance itself from accountability with the suit:

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. 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. We remain undeterred in our efforts to protect workers from exploitation and will continue to review all of our legal options.

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