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Amazon Fights Federal Subpoenas for Worker Safety Documents (1)

Jan. 23, 2023, 6:58 PMUpdated: Jan. 23, 2023, 9:05 PM

Amazon.com Inc. could face a Feb. 1 deadline to hand over thousands of workplace safety documents to federal investigators, according to court filings.

The US Department of Labor is asking a judge to order that Amazon fully comply with 35 subpoenas seeking thousands of records issued as part on an ongoing investigation by OSHA and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

February is a critical deadline for OSHA since it will have been six months since the agency opened inspections of three Amazon distribution centers, and federal law requires citations to be issued within six months of an alleged violation. OSHA has already cited three distribution centers for hazards related to workers lifting and moving packages and cited six centers for not accurately tracking injuries.

“The investigation to date has revealed that many of Amazon’s policies and practices are determined at the corporate level, and are applied to the facilities nationwide, including the six facilities that are the subject of OSHA’s inspections,” attorneys representing the Labor Department and OSHA wrote in a Jan. 20 brief to a judge with the US District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle where Amazon is headquartered.

Amazon is contesting the subpoenas and seeking a June 30 compliance deadline for the documents. Among the company’s claims is that the government has set unrealistic deadlines.

While evidence of violations obtained after Feb. 1 may not lead to inspection citations, OSHA and the US attorney’s office could use the information as part of their larger inquiries that go beyond inspections.

The US attorney’s office said in a Jan. 18 statement that it’s looking into whether Amazon engaged in a “fraudulent scheme to hide the true number of injuries” and whether the company made false representations to lenders about injuries and its safety record to obtain credit.

‘More Than 100 Attorneys’

According to Amazon’s Jan. 20 brief, the subpoenas “seek extensive information on injury rates, turnover rates, productivity, employee complaints, employee injuries/incidents, and more, not just from the six facilities at which OSHA opened inspections but from more than 900 so-called ‘Sibling Facilities’ nationwide.”

OSHA also has served 25 deposition subpoenas to current or former Amazon employees, the retailer said. These deposition demands have been added to hundreds of unsworn interviews that OSHA conducted during its on-site inspections.

“Amazon has complied with all of the government’s demands, mobilizing more than 100 attorneys and expending millions of dollars to provide the government the information it seeks,” Amazon’s brief said.

A records search based on requests from OSHA and the US attorney’s office identified 230,000 documents and an estimated 1.15 million pages that could be relevant, the brief said.

The case is Amazon.com Services LLC v. Dep’t of Justice, W.D. Wash., No. 22-cv-01815, 12/22/22.

(Updates throughout with additional information)

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Genevieve Douglas at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloombergindustry.com