13 AGs Ask Amazon, Whole Foods to Strengthen Health and Safety Measures

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Las Vegas - Circa June 2019: Amazon.com Fulfillment Center. Amazon is the Largest Internet-Based Retailer in the United States

Boston, MA—Attorney General Maura Healey led a coalition of 13 attorneys general in calling on Amazon and Whole Foods Market to strengthen measures to protect the health and safety of their workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release.

The attorneys general sent a letter to the companies requesting updated information on several issues raised by the coalition in a previous letter, sent March 25, which specifically urged the companies to improve their paid leave policies. The new letter asks Amazon and Whole Foods to provide the states with details of health and safety measures they have adopted, data about infections and deaths among their employees, evidence of their compliance with state paid sick leave laws, and more.

The attorneys general wrote in the letter that they were “deeply disappointed” with companies’ failure to meet the request raised in their first letter, which was to adopt a more generous paid leave policy: “The States sought comparable paid leave to that provided under the Families First Corona Response Act. We requested generous paid leave policies in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus during the current pandemic. While we applaud the Companies’ change of course to permit paid leave to employees who are symptomatic and seeking a diagnosis, we are disappointed that the Companies have not made more meaningful changes.”

The other issues addressed, the letter says, were brought to the attention of the attorneys general by the media: “We have learned through media reports that multiple Whole Foods employees at a store in Washington, D.C. have tested positive for COVID-19. One report from WUSA9 independently confirmed 6 positive cases and the other from the New York Times reported a possible 16 positive cases… We are concerned that our Offices and the public are learning of these serious developments through secondhand media reports, rather than hearing directly from Whole Foods.”

The letter also requests that Amazon and Whole Foods investigate all allegations of retaliation against employees for raising concerns regarding health and safety risks, and to take corrective action where warranted. The letter cites as examples the terminations of Christian Smalls in New York, of Faiza Osman and Bashir Mohammed in Minnesota, and of Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham in Washington, and notes that retaliation against employees for raising health and safety concerns violates the Occupational Safety and Health Act, as well as laws in some states forbidding retaliation.

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The letter concludes: “Amazon and Whole Foods are occupying a unique space during this crisis, providing millions of Americans with groceries and necessary supplies. We understand that both companies are seeing a significant increase in sales as well, as consumers rely even more on online shopping and buy more groceries as they stay at home. It is incumbent upon Amazon and Whole Foods as businesses and employers not to worsen the emergency by failing to take every possible step to protect their employees and their customers.”

Attorney General Healey added in the press release: “Amazon and Whole Foods must take every possible step to protect their employees and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. We again call on these companies to provide assurances that they are complying with state laws and federal guidance aimed at keeping essential workers safe during this crisis.”

AG Healey was joined by the attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

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