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Amazon Workers Drop Bid for Emergency Order on Virus Safety (1)

July 14, 2020, 7:32 PMUpdated: July 14, 2020, 8:50 PM

Amazon.com Inc. workers at a New York warehouse dropped their bid for an immediate court order forcing the e-commerce giant to better protect them from the coronavirus.

A Brooklyn, NY, federal judged was set to hear testimony on the workers’ request on Wednesday. But the preliminary injunction became unnecessary after Amazon told facility employees that they won’t be punished for washing their hands or taking other safety measures that reduce productivity, the workers’ legal team told Bloomberg Law on Tuesday.

The workers claimed in their June 3 lawsuit that Amazon’s failure to protect them from the virus is creating a public nuisance in violation of New York law. They’d turned to the public nuisance doctrine—traditionally used in land use disputes—to seek occupational safeguards against the pandemic.

Their case attracted support from the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James and prominent Congressional Democrats including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Barbara Lee of California. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also signed onto a brief backing the workers.

Amazon’s choice to tell warehouse workers for the first time about its nationwide policy to not discipline them for spending time on anti-virus safety measures is a “big victory for public health” and was the “direct result” of the public nuisance lawsuit, the workers’ lawyers said in a statement.

The workers are represented Public Justice, Towards Justice, and Make the Road New York, as well as the Terrell Marshall Law Group

Amazon said in court filings that its policy, instituted in mid-March in response to the pandemic, was already clear to workers before it recently reiterated that message. The company has denied the workers’ allegations about safety failures and said it’s made more than 150 changes to work processes to better protect its employees during the pandemic.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The company’s attorney, Jason Schwartz of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, declined to comment.

The warehouse workers will press forward with the case and litigate their disputes with the company over issues including the adequacy of its contact tracing program at the Staten Island facility and whether its paid leave policies are enough to stop the spread of Covid-19, the workers’ lawyers said.

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan will now focus on Amazon’s arguments for dismissing the lawsuit at a hearing set for July 21.

The case is Palmer v. Amazon, E.D.N.Y., No. 20-02468, 7/14/20.

(Added backers of the lawsuit in 4th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Iafolla in Washington at riafolla@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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