California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Monday asked a Sacramento County Superior Court judge to intervene in what he claims is now six months of Amazon failing to comply with investigative subpoenas over how its warehouse workers were treated during the covid-19 pandemic.
Last spring, Becerra’s office launched a probe to investigate whether Amazon had been acting in compliance with California laws in protecting its workers from covid-19, and on August Aug. 19, as part of that probe, the California Department of Justice asked Amazon to hand over specific data related to warehouse policies and procedures. The investigation came after thousands of Amazon warehouse workers began vocally pushing back against what they described as the company’s outright negligence: stringent work requirements, inadequate sick leave and cleaning procedures and a troubling number of positive cases of the virus in the company’s packing facilities that had gone largely unaddressed by top executives.
But according to the petition the state filed in court on Monday, Amazon has failed to comply with that initial request in the intervening months, instead providing a “slow drip of information” that amounts to “an insufficient response” by the company
“Amazon has made billions during this pandemic relying on the labor of essential workers. Their workers get the job done while putting themselves at risk,” Becerra said. “It’s critical to know if these workers are receiving the protections on the job that they are entitled to under the law. Time is of the essence.”
In a statement obtained by Reuters, Amazon spokeswoman Jodi Seth said that the company had heavily invested in PPE and on-site testing for employees during the pandemic, and, counter to the claim, that the company has been cooperating with Becerra’s office for months.
“We’re puzzled by the attorney general’s sudden rush to court,” Seth said “Their claims of noncompliance with their demands don’t line up with the facts.”
In October, Amazon publicly released a set of comprehensive data on the pandemic that revealed that nearly 20,000 workers had contracted covid-19 between March 1 and Sept. 19 — a figure that the company said was actually 42% lower than expected, when compared with the rate of infection among the general population in the U.S.
As the attorney general’s press release notes, the lack of cooperation comes amid soaring profits for Amazon, with the company reporting a 37% increase in earnings in Q3 to essentially triple its revenues.