“It seemed like Amazon just wanted to pressure people to keep coming to work during the pandemic, even though they were terrified, and so they didn’t tell us whether we’d been exposed and didn’t even explain to my Spanish-speaking co-workers in a language they could understand that they shouldn’t come to work if they were sick.” This is the environment that Thornton, Colorado Amazon worker Linda Rodriguez says Amazon created for its workers in that facility. And when she complained about how lax the company was when it came to contact tracing and the dispersal of accurate health and safety information to its Spanish-speaking workforce, rather than addressing the issues, the company fired her instead.
According to a recently-passed Colorado law known as PHEW, or the Public Health Emergency Whistleblower Act, that firing could count as workplace retaliation during a public health emergency and cost Amazon either Rodriguez’s lost wages or $10,000 – whichever is greater.
The Rodriguez case was filed with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and is far from the first headline about Amazon’s poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 20,000 Amazon employees had contracted the illness at the height of the crisis and there is no doubt that a significant number of them picked up the disease at work. A federal lawsuit filed in New Jersey detailed the antics of shift manager Kristopher Lauderdale as he routinely shunned COVID-19 safety protocols and actually moved closer to an employee during a conversation when he was asked to maintain social distance. The employee who documented Lauderdale’s behavior was fired in retaliation for his repeated attempts to get Lauderdale to behave responsibly.