A federal judge recently dismissed a New York warehouse workers’ lawsuit against Amazon, ultimately ruling their allegations concerning the company’s management of the pandemic should have instead been brought to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) instead. The complaint was filed by four employees in June. They hoped a public nuisance suit would be more effective than going through OSHA.
“Culture of workplace fear”
In the lawsuit, Amazon was accused of creating a “public nuisance” by increasing health and safety risks. They were also accused of creating a “culture of workplace fear” which forced employees to “work at dizzying speeds, even if doing so prevents them from socially distancing, washing their hands, and sanitizing their work spaces.” Amazon denied wrongdoing. “Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our employees, which is why at the onset of the pandemic we moved quickly to make more than 150 COVID-19 related process changes,” said Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan in Brooklyn, New York, ruled OSHA was better positioned “to strike a balance between maintaining some level of operations in conjunction with some level of protective measures,” since courts aren’t experts on workplace safety and public health. “Court-imposed workplace policies could subject the industry to vastly different, costly regulatory schemes in a time of economic crisis,” said Cogan. The workers’ lawyers will appeal the ruling. The judge’s deference to OSHA “should be very concerning to anyone who cares about the health of American workers, given that OSHA has been virtually AWOL throughout this crisis,” they said.
Improving warehouse safety
Amazon health and safety standards are an ongoing concern. The average rate of serious injuries at Amazon fulfillment centers nationwide is 9.6 per 100 full-time workers — over double the national average for the warehousing industry (4). Used to move heavy loads, forklifts, in particular, are common causes of nonfatal and fatal workplace injuries. Fortunately, forklift accident lawyers can help injured employees pursue compensation for medical bills and other damages if employer negligence played a role in the accident. Additionally, in 2020, Amazon spent over $1B on safety measures, including improved ergonomics, mechanical workstation assistance equipment, guided physical and wellness exercises, better workstation setup and design, forklift telematics, and forklift guardrails to protect pedestrians.
In Pennsylvania, OSHA is already being sued by two of the legal nonprofits that brought the Amazon lawsuit. The agency is accused of failing to address “imminent dangers” to workers at a meatpacking plant in the state.