NY lawmakers, unions ask Bezos to close Amazon buildings hit by COVID-19

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos provides the keynote address at the Air Force Association’s Annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference in Oxen Hill, MD, on September 19, 2018.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

A group of New York legislators, top unions and Amazon employees wrote a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos Wednesday calling on him to enact greater protections for warehouse employees who continue to work during the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter to Bezos, the 45 New York lawmakers, advocacy group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and several unions, including AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union, called on Bezos to better protect warehouse workers. 

“You claim to have adopted a number of practices to sanitize worksites and protect workers,” the letter says. “But a compelling number of workers have come forward — and even run the incredible personal risk of walking off the job — to report that the actual situation in warehouses does not match Amazon’s public relations statements. Your workers deserve to have full protections and to be confident that they are not carrying COVID-19 home to their families.”

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that the group’s accusations are “unfounded.” The spokesperson added that the company has implemented a “broad suite” of new benefits changes for employees since the pandemic unfolded and put in place a number of new safety measures at its facilities to protect employees. 

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our teams,” the spokesperson said. “Since the early days of this situation, we have worked closely with health authorities to proactively respond, ensuring we continue to serve customers while taking care of our associates and teams.”

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 | Getty Images

Amazon has previously said it’s gone to “great lengths” to keep facilities clean and make sure employees are following necessary safety precautions, such as washing their hands, using hand sanitizer, practicing social distancing and other measures. The company also said it’s consulting with health authorities and medical experts on how to handle building closures for deep cleaning after an employee tests positive. 

The group said it supports Amazon workers’ calls for the company to close warehouses after they report cases of the coronavirus. They also called for the “swift reinstatement” of Chris Smalls, a worker at an Amazon facility in Staten Island who was fired Monday after he organized a protest calling for greater protections. The company said it fired Smalls for not following social distancing rules after he was quarantined.

The letter also urges Bezos and Amazon to conduct independent health and safety inspections of its facilities, cancel any productivity requirements which “limit employee time for proper sanitation,” provide retroactive pay for workers who have taken unpaid time off during the coronavirus outbreak and to issue a public statement of improved safety protocols “for the safety of your workers and the public.” 

Amazon has been feeling the pressure on multiple fronts to address its safety precautions for warehouse workers. Four senators sent a letter to Bezos last month, calling for him to give workers paid sick leave and time-and-a-half hazard pay. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday urged Amazon to give Smalls his job back and said the New York City Sheriff’s Office would continue to inspect Amazon’s Staten Island facility to make sure it’s following social distancing rules. New York state Attorney General Letitia James also condemned Amazon’s firing of Smalls. 

On Wednesday, Amazon warehouse workers at a facility in Michigan walked out to demand that Amazon close the facility after it reported positive cases of the coronavirus. The workers also called on the company to put in place greater protections for workers. 

WATCH: Staten Island Amazon warehouse workers walk out over coronavirus concerns

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