Court rules federal law prevails, launches lawsuit in New York over Amazon worker safety

A New York state appeals court on Tuesday dismissed the lawsuit of state Attorney General Letitia James, accusing Inc. of failing to adequately protect thousands of workers at two manufacturing facilities. New York against COVID-19.

The Manhattan Appeals Division said the federal law preempted James’ claims that Amazon violated state labor laws by retaliating against two employees, Christian Smalls and Derrick Palmer, who protested the terms of work.

He also said James’ efforts to compel Seattle-based Amazon, America’s second-largest private employer, to comply with the state’s COVID-19 workplace guidelines were moot, because the state withdrew the guidelines it sought to apply.

The attorney general’s office had no immediate comment. Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

James sued Amazon in February 2021 over the online retailer’s health and safety protocols for workers at its JFK8 fulfillment warehouse in Staten Island and DBK1 delivery center in Queens, both in New York.

A state trial judge rejected Amazon’s bid to drop the case in October.

But the appeals court said protests against unsafe working conditions “relate to the participation of workers in concerted activities for the purpose of… helping or protecting each other”, and were protected activities in under national labor relations law.

The four-judge panel also said making a ruling could pose a “substantial risk of interference” with the National Labor Relations Board, which is reviewing essentially the same retaliation allegations.

Amazon fired Smalls for allegedly violating a paid quarantine to lead a protest in March 2020, and gave Palmer a written warning for allegedly violating social distancing rules.

Smalls and Palmer then formed the Amazon Labor Union, which Staten Island warehouse workers voted by a margin of about 5 to 4, according to results released last month. Turnout was around 58%.

The vote was a major victory for U.S. unions, which have seen union membership rates drop by around half since the early 1980s and viewed Amazon as a threat to workers because of its practices and reach. in many sectors.

The case is New York v et al, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, 1st Department, No. 2021-03934.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Potter)

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