Amazon dragged its feet on Covid-19 worker safety probe, says California AG, asking for court order

Key Points
  • California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Amazon has failed to comply with subpoenas for more information, as part of a broader probe into its coronavirus safety measures at warehouses in the state, according to court documents filed Monday.
  • Lacking adequate information, Becerra said he's now asking a judge to order Amazon to cooperate.

In this article

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

California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra is seeking to force Amazon to cooperate with a months-long investigation into its treatment of warehouse workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the spring, Becerra launched a probe looking into working conditions at Amazon's California warehouses during the pandemic. As part of the probe, Becerra contacted Amazon on Aug. 19 to gather more information on coronavirus-related data, policies, practices and procedures.

Now, Becerra alleges Amazon has failed to adequately respond to the office's subpoena and he's asking a Sacramento County Superior Court judge to order Amazon to comply with its requests, according to a court filing published Monday.

"It has been nearly six months since the Attorney General's initial request to Amazon," the filing states. "The slow drip of information from Amazon is an insufficient response."

Without sufficient information, the attorney general can't "adequately determine" if the company is complying with California laws to protect its workers from the coronavirus, according to the filing.

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that the company has been cooperating with Becerra's office for months.

"We're puzzled by the Attorney General's sudden rush to court because we've been working cooperatively for months and their claims of noncompliance with their demands don't line up with the facts," the spokesperson said, adding that Amazon has invested billions of dollars in equipment and technology to keep employees safe from the coronavirus.

Amazon warehouse workers have routinely criticized the company's response to the pandemic over the past several months, saying it failed to adequately protect them from the coronavirus. Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, have pushed back on these accusations, saying the company has gone to "great lengths" to safeguard workers.

Amazon in October disclosed that nearly 20,000 front-line employees contracted Covid-19 between March 1 and Sept. 19. The company said the rate of infection among employees was 42% lower than expected, compared with the general population rate in the U.S.

In the subpoenas, Becerra requested specific details from Amazon on its sick leave policies, cleaning procedures and "raw data" on the number of coronavirus infections and deaths at its facilities in the state. Amazon provided the office with a "small amount of imprecise information," according to the court filing.

The attorney general "learned more from media reports and press releases than from Amazon directly," the filing adds.

The information requested by the office from Amazon has become increasingly crucial as the spread of the coronavirus continues to accelerate across the country, the filing notes. The virus has now infected more than 16.4 million people killed more than 300,000 in the U.S., NBC News reports.

"It's critical to know if these workers are receiving the protections on the job that they are entitled to under the law," Becerra said in a statement. "Time is of the essence."

Becerra is set to play a key role in the nation's response to the coronavirus pandemic after President-elect Joe Biden selected him to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

Amazon reports 19K front-line workers test positive for Covid-19
Amazon reports 19K front-line workers test positive for Covid-19