Amazon Sued Over Warehouse COVID-19 Deaths

Plaintiffs Derrick Palmer, Kendia Mesidor, Benita Rouse, Alexander Rouse, Barbara Chandler, and Luis Pellot-Chandler filed a complaint against Amazon in relation to its JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The plaintiffs claimed that Amazon failed to “comply with New York law and state and federal public health guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic at the JFK8 facility,” which caused injury and harm to plaintiffs.

New York became an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is highly contagious and is easily spread through the community, making taking healthy guidelines and social distancing efforts important to minimize the risk of exposure and contracting the virus. However, following both state and federal guidelines has allegedly been nearly impossible at JFK8, causing Amazon workers and their family members to contract or die from COVID-19. Consequently, the plaintiffs alleged that Amazon failed to comply with laws and health guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic at this particular fulfillment center. These measures include specific guidelines based on the type of operation, but are designed to maintain a safe and clean work space. They also include guaranteed quarantine leave pay for the next pay period if a worker must undergo a mandatory or precautionary quarantine. As a result of their alleged failure to comply, the plaintiffs claimed that “Amazon’s failures have already caused injury and death to workers and family members of workers. At least one JFK8 worker has died from COVID-19, and there are rumors of additional deaths among JFK8 workers. Workers have brought the virus home to family members, some of whom have also tragically died.” The plaintiffs said the injuries and deaths have resulted from Amazon’s poor conduct and failure to comply with guidelines.

One plaintiff, Barbara Chandler, contracted COVID-19 in March “from workers who were explicitly or implicitly encouraged to continue attending work and prevented from adequately washing their hands or sanitizing their workstations. Chandler brought the virus home to her family and less than a month later, she awoke to find her cousin with whom she lived dead in their bathroom, after he had become ill with COVID-19 symptoms.” Chandler was eligible for and requested paid quarantine leave, however, she claims that “Amazon failed to pay Chandler her quarantine in the next pay period as required. And after weeks of delay, Amazon ultimately compensated Chandler for only a portion of the quarantine leave pay she was entitled.”

The workers accused Amazon of creating “a façade of compliance by, for example, providing fulfillment center employees with masks, the company has also relied on purposeful miscommunication with workers, sloppy contact tracing, and the culture of the workplace fear it has instilled at JFK8 to ensure it can maintain productivity while reducing costs, even if that means workers come to work sick and cannot engage in proper hygiene, sanitizing, or social distancing while at work in order to stay healthy.” The plaintiffs claimed that Amazon has the capability to do more to protect its employees, but it has failed to take these measures. They claimed that Amazon instills fear in its workers and undermines their efforts to remain safe and healthy;y there is a “culture of workplace fear reinforced by constant technological supervision, retaliation against those who speak out, and the threat of automatic and immediate job loss.”

The workers additionally claimed that Amazon’s paid leave is inadequate to encourage people to stay home if they feel sick; workers receive 48 hours of paid leave for a year. Amazon workers are encouraged to visit “‘Amcare,’ Amazon’s in-house clinic” if injured or feeling sick, however, “Amcare has come under considerable scrutiny for purporting to provide medical care without being licensed to do so.” The plaintiffs stated that Amcare has told workers with COVID-19 symptoms or those who were potentially exposed “not to worry.”

According to the complaint, Amazon clocks workers for their “Time off Task” (TOT); Amazon has strict rules for the amount of time it allows, and activities, such as a bathroom break will count toward the TOT and, therefore, against the worker. Therefore, the plaintiffs stated that Amazon makes the simple act of handwashing difficult with its policies, given that a bathroom or handwashing station could be 7 minute walk each way.

Amazon was accused of being a public nuisance, breaching its duty to protect the health and safety of employees as required by New York Labor Law, failing to timely pay earned wages under the New York Labor Law through Amazon’s failure to comply with health guidelines and standards, failure to take actions to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and for not taking care of its employees.

The suit is filed in the Eastern District of New York. Plaintiffs are represented by Towards Justice, Make the Road New York, Public Justice, and Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC.

This is not the first time JFK8 has been criticized as a safety hazard. In November 2019, prior to the pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration deemed the fulfillment center a dangerous workplace with an alarmingly high injury rate.