California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Monday Amazon and the state reached an agreement where Amazon will now have to inform employees within one business day on how many new COVID-19 cases have come up in the company, as well as paying $500,000 towards consumer protection enforcement in the state.
The stipulated judgement, which was approved by the Sacramento County Superior Court, came into place following a California investigation in Amazon’s COVID-19 safety practices last year. Begun under former state AG and current White House Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra, the state had continuously battled Amazon to release information and comply with subpoenas, such as a battle in December 2020 against the company over information on what was being done to protect workers against the virus.
Specifically, the state said that Amazon was violating state law by going against AB 685, by Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-Grand Terrace) that requires public agencies to notify employees if they’ve been potentially exposed to COVID-19 while at work. Signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in September 2020, the state tied in the AB 685 violation due to the company not telling employees or the state on just how many people had COVID-19 in offices and warehouses across the state. In addition, Amazon was also found to have not disclosed any COVID-19 safety plans.
Facing a potentially huge suit from the state, Amazon settled up with California officially on Monday. Lawmakers closely tied to action celebrated on Monday, seeing the decision as a major victory over the online retail giant, a major advancement for employee COVID-19 safety measures, and as a message to other companies that have not been complying with AB 685.
“As our nation continues to battle the pandemic, it is absolutely critical that businesses do their part to protect workers now — and especially during this holiday season,” said Attorney General Bonta on Monday in a statement. “That’s why California law requires employers to notify workers of potential workplace exposures and to report outbreaks to local health agencies. Today’s first-of-its-kind judgment will help ensure Amazon meets that requirement for its tens of thousands of warehouse workers across California. Bottom line: Californians have a right to know about potential exposures to the coronavirus to protect themselves, their families, and their communities. I’m grateful to Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes for her leadership in spearheading AB 685 to stand up for California’s essential workers during these unprecedented times. This judgment sends a clear message that businesses must comply with this important law. It helps protect us all.”
The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Gomez Reyes, also spoke on Monday, adding that “AB 685 is an example of how we can come together when a problem emerges to protect workers and hold employers accountable. When this bill was being considered in the State Legislature and subsequent to it becoming law, we heard the stories from across this state of employees who were not informed of COVID-19 exposures and had to work in conditions where safety from this highly contagious disease was an afterthought. I am happy that our Attorney General, Rob Bonta, is demanding accountability and transparency from employers who have been unwilling to follow a straightforward law designed to keep workers and their families safe in these challenging times.”
Settlement between California, Amazon
However, while Amazon did concede to the settlement, the company noted on Monday that Bonta’s office found no COVID-19 safety violations in their buildings and that it would be transparent in compliance with the law.
“Amazon is glad to have this resolved and to see that the AG found no substantive issues with the safety measures in our buildings,” a company spokesperson said Monday. “We’ve worked hard from the beginning of the pandemic to keep our employees safe and deliver for our customers— incurring more than $15 billion in costs to date—and we’ll keep doing that in months and years ahead.”
Many Amazon workers also told the Globe that the company had been treating COVID-19 safety measures in their warehouses with seriousness.
“Everyone is trying to make Amazon look like they didn’t care here, but they have been very diligent on this,” explained Charles G., an Amazon warehouse worker in California. “The work amount and pay, those are the more pressing issues among others. But it really confused a lot of us when the state went after the company over this. The company is even encouraging vaccinations by allowing no masks for workers after vaccination and other things like that.”
Amazon is expected to comply quickly with the settlement, with the state likely to start overseeing and reporting new daily COVID-19 cases from Amazon soon.