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Amazon employees are suing the company for failing to protect them against coronavirus

For months while the coronavirus pandemic spread, Amazon workers continued reporting to warehouses and facilities around the world. During that time, an unknown number of workers were infected with the virus, and at least eight died due to complications from the disease. Now a group of Amazon warehouse workers have filed a lawsuit that claims the company put them and their families at risk of contracting coronavirus.

Three employees in total are involved in the lawsuit, including one who works in Amazon’s Staten Island distribution center, known as JFK8, where at least one worker died of coronavirus and as many as 100 employees may have been infected. That employee believes that she may have passed the virus onto her cousin, whom she lived with. Her cousin died after experiencing symptoms of the virus. Advocacy groups including Towards Justice, Public Justice, and Make the Road New York have also joined the lawsuit on the side of the plaintiffs.

The suit accuses Amazon of violating public nuisance and employee safety laws, intentionally miscommunicating vital safety information to employees, and utilizing a "culture of workplace fear" that made it difficult for workers to take sick leave when needed. The accusations fall in line with public accounts of the conditions within Amazon facilities, where workers have complained of inadequate safety protocols and poor enforcement of social distancing and other health-related standards. While the lawsuit focuses primarily on JFK8, the conditions have reportedly been similar at facilities across the country.

The employees involved in the legal challenge to Amazon's practices are not seeking damages for costs associated with sickness or death from coronavirus. Instead, it is requesting the courts to intervene and require Amazon to adhere to public safety guidelines established by the states in which the company operates and the recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plaintiffs request that Amazon provide accurate information about coronavirus-related leaves of absence from work, provide additional time between tasks to sanitize workstations, and develop a contact-tracing protocol to better inform workers if they may have been exposed to the virus.

Amazon told Mic that it has followed CDC and WHO guidelines, as well as requirements put in place by federal and local health authorities. Rachael Lighty, a spokesperson for Amazon, told Mic:

“We are saddened by the tragic impact COVID-19 has had on communities across the globe, including on some Amazon team members and their family and friends. From early March to May 1, we offered our employees unlimited time away from work, and since May 1 we have offered leave for those most vulnerable or who need to care for children or family members. We also invested $4 billion from April to June on COVID-related initiatives, including over $800 million in the first half of this year on safety measures like temperature checks, masks, gloves, enhanced cleaning and sanitization, extended pay and benefits options, testing, and more. This includes two weeks paid leave for any COVID diagnosis or quarantine, and launching a $25 million fund to support our partners and contractors.”

Amazon has insisted for months that it has done everything required of it to protect its warehouse employees, despite workers regularly pushing back against those claims and even organizing walkouts to protest the working conditions. Amazon has not provided a public accounting of how many of its employees have been infected, but an estimate gathered by one employee suggests more than 600 warehouse workers have contracted coronavirus.