Velazquez Leads Colleagues in Filing Amicus Brief Supporting Amazon Workers
Washington, DC - Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY-07) today led 15 of her Congressional colleagues in filing an amicus brief in support of New York-based Amazon workers suing the company over dangerous conditions that have resulted in them exposing their community and family members to COVID-19. The workers’ suit, filed by Staten Island JFK8 warehouse employees last Wednesday, seeks changes to onthe-job and leave policies they say endanger them by incentivizing symptomatic workers to continue showing up for shifts, not allowing adequate time to wash hands and sanitize workstations, and blocking other precautions. One plaintiff to Wednesday’s suit says she contracted COVID-19 at the State Island facility in March and then spread it to her cousin who later died.
“Amazon has made tremendous profits during this terrible pandemic as more people purchase items online,” Velázquez said. “However, it has become tragically clear that this giant corporation is willing to imperil the health and safety of its own workers, their families and the surrounding community to benefit its bottom line. Today, we are imploring the court to intervene and provide relief that protects employees from getting ill and jeopardizing the community through further COVID-19 spread.”
Velázquez’s Congressional District, New York’s 7th, includes an Amazon flex facility where packages from the JFK8 building are channeled for end delivery to customers.
“Workers at JFK8 live in my district and throughout all five boroughs of New York,” Velázquez added. “When they are exposed to unsafe conditions and heightened risk of COVID-19, it puts our entire city at risk of greater spread.”
The complaint filed by the workers and their counsel at Make the Road New York, Public Justice, Towards Justice, and Terrell Marshall Law Group alleges Amazon’s operations at JFK8 constitute a public nuisance because they unreasonably interfere with the common public right to public health and that Amazon’s actions constitute a breach of Amazon’s duty to provide its workers with a reasonably safe workplace. The suit does not seek money damages aside from back pay for paid quarantine leave, but asks the court to force Amazon to comply with CDC guidelines, state public health orders, and the guidance of health professionals.
In addition to Velázquez, the amicus brief was signed by other Democratic lawmakers: Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13); Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14); Rep. Max Rose (NY-11); Rep. Grace Meng (NY-06); Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY-10); Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13); Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17); Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07); Rep. Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04); Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN-05); Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI-13); Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-04); Senator Bernie Sanders (VT); Senator Cory Booker (NJ) and Senator Edward Markey (MA).
“These Amazon employees are the very definition of essential workers. They've delivered food and other necessary goods to Americans in the hardest hit city in the country, and they played an invaluable role in supporting small businesses who had to close their physical locations. And yet, they were treated by their employer - one of the richest companies in the world - as entirely disposable. That's unacceptable. Amazon should immediately comply with all public health guidelines for their employees,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocascio-Cortez (D-NY).
“Amazon has a corporate responsibility not only to deliver packages on time but also to keep workers and their families safe,” said Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13). “During an ongoing public health emergency, the company should have put more effort into ensuring the safety and wellbeing of its employees. We are calling for full transparency following accusations that Amazon and its leadership was only interested in profits and failed to safeguard its workforce during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.”
“All companies – even Amazon—must provide critical protections for their warehouse workers during COVID-19,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens). “When so many people are relying on delivery services to provide goods to sustain their lives while at home, we must also ensure those who are packaging those items are taken care of. Lives are on the line. This issue must be corrected immediately.”
“If workers are deemed essential, we cannot allow corporations to treat their lives as expendable,” said Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-MA). “Amazon’s workers and their families don’t just deserve access to health care protections in the midst of this pandemic, they are legally entitled to those protections provided by their employer.”
Counsel for members of Congress in the amicus brief are the Open Society Justice Initiative, on behalf of the Open Society Policy Center, and Bredhoff & Kaiser, PLLC.
A copy of the amicus brief is online here. The original complaint from the workers is online here.