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Amazon’s warehouse safety spurs investigation by California attorney general

A worker packs shelves at the Amazon.com warehouse in Tracy, Calif.
A worker packs shelves at the Amazon.com warehouse in Tracy, Calif. The state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, is investigating Amazon’s safety practices after outbreaks of COVID-19 at company facilities.
(David Paul Morris / Bloomberg)

Amazon.com Inc.’s policies on safeguarding workers during the pandemic are being examined by California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, according to a court filing.

The investigation was revealed Monday in the case of an employee who’s a picker in an Amazon grocery warehouse and who accused the company of not doing enough to protect staff, including sanitizing equipment and maintaining social distancing. A California state judge in San Francisco refused to grant the employee’s request to temporarily shut down the warehouse.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health and California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health have also opened investigations, according to the ruling by San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman.

Though Amazon earmarked $800 million in the first half of the year for safety measures including masks, sanitizer and temperature checks, employees continue to protest what they say are unsafe working conditions and some have alleged retaliation from Amazon for speaking out.

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Harry Sentoso, 63, went back to work at Amazon as part of the company’s hiring wave. Two weeks later, he was dead from COVID-19.

New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James is investigating the March firing of Amazon warehouse workers who demonstrated at the company’s Staten Island, N.Y., warehouse. A warehouse worker in Shakopee, Minn., complained to the state attorney general that Amazon retaliated against her for speaking out about workplace safety by giving her a written warning about taking breaks as brief as three minutes. Amazon has denied any retaliation.

Becerra’s office declined to comment and Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Schulman said he denied the warehouse picker’s injunction request because Becerra’s office and the two enforcement agencies have the technical expertise to check on and take action against Amazon’s response to state and local requirements to protect worker safety and public health. San Francisco health officials inspected the facility in mid-July and “found no current violations,” Schulman said.

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Amazon told the court in a previous filing that it was taking steps over time to improve workplace safety as health risks and regulatory requirements evolve. Those measures include contracting with a janitorial service for daily cleanings and establishing protocols to regularly clean shared equipment such as freezer suits and baskets, the company said in its filing.

“Amazon doubtless could still improve its health and safety practices,” Schulman said. “And, at least with the benefit of hindsight, it arguably could have done a swifter job in the past of developing and implementing those practices. But perfection is not the standard.”

Reuters reported earlier on the investigations.


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