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Union: We cannot allow Amazon to set health and safety standards

caption: Amazon employee Filomeno Saya packages items at an Amazon fulfillment center on Friday, November 3, 2017, in Kent.
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Amazon employee Filomeno Saya packages items at an Amazon fulfillment center on Friday, November 3, 2017, in Kent.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Amazon warehouse workers in New York are getting help from unions in their fight for better pandemic working conditions.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is joining with European unions that have been battling Amazon over warehouse conditions there. These unions are joining lawmakers including Rep. Pramila Jayapal in asking a court for an injunction.

Together they are asking a district court in New York to compel Amazon to improve working conditions inside warehouses.

“People are getting sick now and dying in the Amazon facilities and we can’t waste any time," said Stuart Appelbaum, who leads the leads the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

“Greater health and safety protections need to be provided by the wealthiest man in the universe.”

Amazon says it is spending billions keeping workers safe and winning praise from local authorities for conditions in the warehouses.

However, Appelbaum says the union movement "cannot allow Amazon to set the standards for health and safety."

In the lawsuit, workers at JFK8 say they are held to rigid productivity measures that prevent them from leaving their stations to wash their hands or taking the time to wipe down their work stations.

Amazon denies that: “Associates have the time they need to clean their equipment and break times have been extended to accommodate increased time for personal hygiene like hand washing, said Timothy Carter, an Amazon spokesman.

“Additionally our associates have time that they can choose to do things like go to the restroom, refill their water, or go speak to a manager, to name a few examples with no impact on their performance. “

In a statement about the JFK8 workers' lawsuit, Amazon said:

"Since the early days of this situation, we have always followed the guidance of federal and local health authorities, including the CDC and WHO, our own workplace health and safety experts and an independent epidemiologist, and comply with all state and federal laws regarding public health not just during this pandemic, but year-round. State health and safety regulatory agencies have inspected 91 of our facilities since March and all on-site inspections have passed. Each time, Amazon has been praised for going beyond current compliance requirements."

This post has been updated with reaction from Amazon.

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