Amazon has defended its coronavirus safety policies, as workers in New York prepare to take it to court.
Among their demands is extra time to wash their hands, which Amazon says it told workers they could have in March.
Derrick Palmer, one of those suing it, said he had been unaware of this change in policy until this week, when, Amazon says, it sent an email to “clarify” the change to the Staten Island workers.
Amazon said it did not comment on pending legal action.
In May, an employee at the Staten Island warehouse died with Covid-19 and others fell sick.
And the workers, backed by advocacy groups Make the Road, Towards Justice and Public Justice, are demanding a number of urgent changes, including:
- a more transparent leave policy that encourages workers to stay home in accordance with state or federal public health guidance
- prompt payment for quarantine leave
- an increase to the allowance of “time off task” (TOT) so workers can wash their hands or clean their workstations
Time off task deducts points for lack of productivity.
And if employees fail to meet productivity quotas, they can face dismissal.
But, according to Bloomberg, Amazon lawyers said its policy had been adjusted in March to make it clear hand-washing would not be counted as TOT during the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier in the case, Frank Kearl, a lawyer representing the workers said staff felt “extraordinary pressure to come to work even when they may be sick and to work at breakneck pace even when that means not going to the bathroom to engage in basic hygiene”.
And the legal action alleges Amazon’s “oppressive and dangerous” policies have increased the risk of the virus spreading among workers.
In response, Amazon has said it has made more than 150 changes to working practices spent more than $800m (£638m) on measures to make sure its warehouses are safe, including on:
- safety equipment
- thermal cameras
- a track-and-trace system for workers who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus
The case will be carefully watched by unions and others keen to see changes in working conditions at Amazon’s warehouses, where demand has increased as more people turn to online shopping.
And Amazon has previously accused workers of trying to “exploit the pandemic”.