A Brooklyn-based judge says courts lack the expertise to handle company-specific occupational safety guidelines.
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Amazon warehouse workers in New York, stating that their complaints about the company’s coronavirus response should have been directed to the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) instead of the courts.
The Seattle Times notes that the lawsuit filed in June accused Amazon of creating a “public nuisance” by refusing to implement proper coronavirus mitigation policies at its JFK8 warehouse.
According to some warehouse workers, Amazon has maintained a “workplace fear culture” in which employees are instructed to “work at dizzying speeds, even if it prevents them from social distancing, washing their hands, and cleaning up their work areas “.
However, US District Judge Brian Cogan of Brooklyn, New York City said OSHA was better positioned to “strike a balance between maintaining a certain level of operation and a certain level of protective measures.”
“Without a doubt, the best protection against contagion in the workplace would be to shut down JFK8 completely during the pandemic and continue to provide wages and benefits to employees,” wrote Cogan, trying to emphasize the need to balance worker safety with corporate profits bring.
Cogan said courts typically lack the expertise to address workplace safety and public health issues. He also stated that the unique contours of the case – presumably due to Amazon’s pan-national presence – could result in similar disputes being resolved with conflicting decisions.
“The workplace policy imposed by the court could subject the industry to completely different, costly regulatory systems in times of economic crisis,” wrote Richter Cogan.
Amazon Tower in Seattle, WA; Image courtesy of
Adamajreynolds via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org
However, the warehouse workers’ lawyers criticized Cogan’s decision.
Cogan’s respect for OSHA, the attorneys said, “should be of great concern to anyone who cares about the health of American workers, as OSHA was practically AWOL during this crisis.”
However, Lisa Levandowski, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the company was quick to evolve its internal policies to effectively address coronavirus-related workplace hazards.
“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our employees, which is why we quickly made more than 150 COVID-19-related process changes at the start of the pandemic,” Levandowski said in a statement.
Even so, worker advocates have claimed that Amazon is anything but the best interests of its subordinates.
The advocacy groups supporting the lawsuit, including Towards Justice, Public Justice and Make the Road New York, who backed all three workers in their case against Amazon, said Cogan’s decision was “devastating”.
The decision, they said, “gives Amazon the freedom to continue to discourage workers from taking adequate time to wash hands in the workplace, not promptly paying for quarantine leave under some state laws, and from engaging in tracing This includes the most basic steps to trace worker contacts and keep workers not being clearly told what to do when they experience symptoms or think they are exposed. “
The warehouse workers’ COVID lawsuit in Amazon, NY, has been thrown by the judge
Amazon workers lawsuit over coronavirus safety dismissed by New York judge
The judge dismisses the Amazon workers’ lawsuit over coronavirus safety