Maryland, DC among prosecutors demanding more transparency, worker protection at Amazon
WASHINGTON - Amazon, which has come under intense scrutiny from its own employees and lawmakers over worker safety during the coronavirus pandemic, is now being pressed by 13 state attorneys general over how it's keeping employees safe.
The open letter, addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, has laid out seven bullet points the attorneys general want both retailers to deal with, including measures they're taking to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees, complying with state sick leave laws and providing data on employees who've contracted COVID-19 and those who've died as a result of the virus.
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“Amazon and Whole Foods must take every possible step to protect their employees and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a statement accompanying the letter. “We again call on these companies to provide assurances that they are complying with state laws and federal guidance aimed at keeping essential workers safe during this crisis.”
Amazon purchased Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in 2017.
In addition to Massachusetts, attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and the District of Columbia have all signed the letter.
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The letter comes just a few days after an employee at the Staten Island Amazon fulfillment center known as JFK8 died of the virus. Managers at the site were notified of the death, the company told Fox News.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of an associate at our site in Staten Island, NY," Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty told Fox News. "His family and loved ones are in our thoughts, and we are supporting his fellow colleagues.”
A source familiar with the situation noted the employee was last at the warehouse on April 5. On April 11, he was confirmed to have COVID-19 and remained in quarantine. The source added that Amazon is working to update all of its employees at the site and is providing support and counseling to those at JFK8.
READ MORE: Amazon employees test positive for coronavirus at 6 US warehouses
The first-known death of an Amazon worker occurred on March 31 in Hawthorne, Calif. Another worker died, one day later, in Tracy, Calif.
The letter also specifically called out Whole Foods, noting there "appear[s] to be serious COVID-19 developments at Whole Foods stores" in the 13 states, including multiple employees (six confirmed and as many as 16) at a Washington D.C. Whole Foods store testing positive for the virus.
"We are concerned that our Offices and the public are learning of these serious developments through secondhand media reports, rather than hearing directly from Whole Foods," the letter states. "Accordingly, we request that Whole Foods provide a description of its policies and processes, if any, that relate to notifying consumers, the public, and public health authorities of serious COVID-19 developments at Company stores."
The letter to Bezos and Mackey also addressed the recent spate of firings, including Christian Smalls, a former worker at JFK8, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, noting the terminations could violate the law.
“Such conduct, if proven, may violate Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act [29 U.S.C. §660(c)], as well as laws in certain of our States that forbid retaliation,” the letter reads. “Even the perception of retaliation during this public health emergency can serve to silence employees who raise legitimate concerns about health and safety measures, and place those employees, their co-workers, customers, and the public at grave risk.”
Smalls demanded that the Jeff Bezos-led company close the fulfillment center for a deep cleaning after a worker tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-March. He was later fired, with Amazon telling Fox News it terminated him because he violated several terms of his employment.
After the news of Smalls' termination, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered an investigation into the incident. New York Attorney General Letitia James also issued a statement, saying "it is disgraceful" Smalls was terminated after he "bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues."
In April, Amazon fired two more employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who criticized the alleged lax working conditions at its various warehouses and fulfillment centers around the country.
Fox News has reached out to Amazon with a request for comment.
As of Wednesday morning, more than 4.28 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, more than 1.37 million of which are in the U.S., the most impacted country on the planet.
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