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Amazon Hiring Spree Bolsters Its Workplace Safety Team (1)

June 11, 2020, 2:28 PMUpdated: June 11, 2020, 8:31 PM

The world’s biggest retailer is boosting its cadre of in-house counsels and advisers with experience in workplace safety and labor and employment litigation, as the company continues to face litigation over alleged unsafe work conditions.

Tressi Cordaro, a Jackson Lewis principal and head of the firm’s Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group in Washington, D.C., is the latest to join Amazon.com’s team. Cordaro will join Amazon’s Worldwide Operations, Workplace Health and Safety, on June 29 as the director of compliance, an Amazon representative confirmed to Bloomberg Law.

Cordaro’s move to Amazon is just the latest in a spree of executive hiring by the technology company this year. Carla Gunnin, another former Jackson Lewis attorney who was co-chair of the firm’s Workplace Safety and Health Group, joined Amazon as the company’s director of governance and external affairs in January.

Amazon’s Workplace Health and Safety team hired 20 new staffers this year, including directors and senior managers, Amazon’s spokeswoman said.

The new roles were approved in December 2019 before the pandemic hit and were a part of Amazon’s Fiscal Year 2020 operations planning. The hires are part of the vision conceptualized by former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, Heather MacDougall, who joined the company as vice president of worldwide health and safety last April. MacDougall is aiming to “synthesize leading health and safety expertise with Amazon’s tech capability and innovation to create new industry benchmarks for health and safety,” the spokeswoman said.

These moves come as the retail giant is increasingly under fire by worker advocates and unions over warehouse safety concerns, compensation policies, and most recently over alleged exposure to the coronavirus. Bringing on experienced attorneys familiar with litigation in these areas is likely to boost the company’s ability to fight litigation and respond to continued changes brought on by the coronavirus.

“To hire that many people with labor and employment expertise all at once suggests Amazon decided that they faced legal issues that the company hadn’t previously been worried about,” said Catherine Fisk, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, in a phone interview. “Occupational safety and health is both something a company should care about all the time, but also an issue that can become more acute when we’re facing a new health risk like a pandemic.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic, businesses have tried to balance the need to stay operational with the complicated and often conflicting health and safety guidelines put out by local and federal agencies since nationwide shutdowns began in March. Just last week, a group of Amazon warehouse employees sued the company in New York, claiming its working conditions put them and their families at risk of contracting the virus.

Cordaro and Other Hires

Cordaro has advised and represented employers on occupational safety and health issues before federal and state OSHA enforcement agencies. She’s represented the National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Manufacturers in recent cases, according to Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics.

“The top brass might be thinking they want to improve workplace culture here. I think from my vantage point bringing in legal and employment law experts working with human resources types can work to change the culture,” said Stewart Schwab, professor of law at Cornell Law School during a phone interview.

State and federal officials are closely monitoring Amazon’s actions in light of Covid-19. Continuously changing regulations related to the pandemic and staying in compliance is hard for a national employer like Amazon, Schwab said. The additional experienced staff will help navigate those regulations, he said.

Several U.S. states asked the tech and e-commerce giant to provide information about health and safety measures following the death of workers from coronavirus-related illnesses.

Amazon’s spokeswoman said the company’s top concern is ensuring the health and safety of its employees. The company expects to invest about $4 billion through June on Covid-related initiatives, including safety measures. In addition to these hires, Amazon has added 500 professionals to its health and safety organization, more than half in response to the pandemic.

Other Hires at Amazon

Amazon also has beefed up its labor and employment in-house counsel staff across the country, making six new hires in just a few months from Discover, USAA, SAG-AFTRA, and other companies specifically for those roles, according to LinkedIn. Amazon also added Cozen O’Connor real estate attorney Samantha Mazo in April as a senior project manager for real estate in the company’s Last Mile Network.

  • Jaime Cole, former attorney at Ogletree Deakins, joined Amazon as the company’s senior corporate counsel for labor and employment, in February.
  • Bruce Larson joined Amazon from Advantage Solutions that same month as corporate counsel for labor and employment.
  • Raina Jones left Discover to become Amazon’s corporate counsel for labor and employment in May.
  • Nate Hennagin, former in-house counsel at SAG-AFTRA, joined Amazon Studios as corporate labor relations counsel in April.
  • Claire Tracey joined Amazon in April as a labor and employment counsel from USAA.
  • Alia Samad-Salameh, a former employment executive at Walmart Inc., joined Amazon in December as a principal for global labor standards.

With assistance from Brian Baxter.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jdiaz@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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