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Amazon sued by NYC workers seeking coronavirus protection, not money

The lawsuit claims that Amazon engages in "purposeful miscommunication with workers" and "sloppy contact tracing."
Amazon workers at Amazon's Staten Island warehouse strike in demand that the facility be shut down and cleaned after one staffer tested positive for the coronavirus on March 30, 2020 in New York.Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images file

Six people connected to an Amazon fulfillment center on New York City's Staten Island have sued the online retail giant, alleging that the company is not following local public health guidance pertaining to the COVID-19 crisis.

The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, claims that Amazon engages in "purposeful miscommunication with workers" and "sloppy contact tracing," alleging that workers are afraid of management and that they are pushed to come to work sick and unable to maintain proper hygiene.

Amazon did not directly respond to NBC News’ questions, but Lisa Lewandowski, a spokeswoman, emailed a statement that said the company had invested $4 billion on “COVID-related initiatives” between April and June 2020.

The lawsuit appears to be the second such suit it has faced in the wake of the pandemic. The first was filed last month in a county court in Oregon.

Similar formal state-level complaints have also been filed by Amazon workers in Riverside County, near Los Angeles County. In recent weeks, Amazon employees in France also made comparable complaints, and went on strike before reaching a deal with management.

In the New York case, three of the plaintiffs are Amazon workers, while the others are cohabitants — either children or romantic partners — who are concerned about their possible exposure to the virus. One, Barbara Chandler, has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The case echoes similar concerns raised by other front-line workers in agriculture in Washington state and meat processing workers in Missouri.

The New York plaintiffs do not want money for their alleged past harm.

"All they seek is an order requiring Amazon to comply with public health guidance to prevent more harm in the future," the complaint says.

The Staten Island facility, known as JFK8, is sizable, measuring 855,000 square feet, with 5,000 workers. It is the same site where, a worker who died of COVID-19 last month fell ill, according to tech-focused news website The Verge.

Going as far back as late March, workers at the Staten Island facility have demanded greater workplace protections and even organized a walkout. The worker-turned-activist, Chris Smalls, was fired. Amazon claimed that Smalls had not abided by social distancing rules, while he has said the company retaliated against him for his organizing efforts.

"As someone whose partner felt it was unsafe to visit her elderly family member because of the dangerous conditions at my job, I know too well the costs of Amazon's failure to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the facility," Derrick Palmer, one of the Staten Island plaintiffs, said in a statement. "We want to protect our own health, but also peace of mind for our family members, and safety for the many communities in which JFK8 workers live."