Amazon has yet to let the state know how many of the company’s workers have been infected by or died from COVID-19, despite subpoenas filed months ago, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a petition to the Sacramento County Superior Court on Monday.
The company also has not provided information about how it’s trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including with regard to sick leave policies and cleaning procedures, Becerra said. He is asking the court to order Amazon to comply with the state’s subpoenas and provide that information.
The petition comes months into the state’s investigation into Amazon’s workplace safety practices. It also comes two months after Cal-OSHA levied $1,870 in fines on two Amazon warehouses in Southern California for failing to provide sufficient safety training for employees. The company is appealing those fines.
“Amazon has made billions during this pandemic relying on the labor of essential workers. Their workers get the job done while putting themselves at risk,” Becerra said in his office’s press release announcing the petition. “It’s critical to know if these workers are receiving the protections on the job that they are entitled to under the law.”
In a statement, Amazon said it’s been working cooperatively with the Attorney General’s office.
“The bottom line is that we’re a leader in providing COVID-19 safety measures for our employees — we’ve invested billions of dollars in equipment and technology, including building on-site testing for employees and providing personal protective equipment. We encourage anyone to compare our speed and actions in this area to any other major employer,” the company said in its statement.
Although the company has said its employees test positive for COVID-19 at a lower rate than the general population, Amazon has been under fire from its workers and advocates, who say the company’s data is misleading. The company’s communication about workplace exposures has also been confusing, some workers told The Fresno Bee last week.
“It’s not something we knew about, but it’s not surprising given how Amazon has responded generally to this issue,” Sheheryar Kaoosji, the executive director at the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, said of the subpoena. “Just because you’re the second biggest company in the country … doesn’t mean the law doesn’t apply to you.”
Kaoosji, who works with employees in Amazon’s Southern California warehouses, said the company is focusing on getting work done at the expense of workers’ health and safety. It may take days for the company to respond to workers’ request to take paid time off, for instance, he said.
“A delay of day or two can mean an expansion of an outbreak,” he said.
In the petition, Becerra said he sent a letter to Amazon in May, demanding information on the company’s COVID-19 case counts and prevention protocols. While he can’t give any specifics, his office received information that “merits looking into” about Amazon’s protocols and practices, Becerra said in a press conference.
After Amazon gave an inadequate and incomplete response, the state filed a subpoena on Aug. 19, Becerra said.
In October, Becerra’s office narrowed its subpoena to ask for case and death counts for only seven facilities, including workplaces in Fresno, Tracy and Stockton. But the company still has yet to comply with the subpoena, Becerra said.
Becerra said Amazon’s failure to obey the subpoena has prevented the state from further investigating the company’s procedures and their compliance with the state’s new COVID-19 workplace rules.
“We don’t have the time to drag our feet,” Becerra said. “If Amazon can deliver in next day an 85-inch TV, it should be able to deliver to the Department of Justice the information we requested four months ago.”
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