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Amazon sues Washington state regulators, alleging Constitutional violation in warehouse security case

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The case focuses on Amazon’s fulfillment center in Kent, Wash. (GeekWire File Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Amazon sued the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) on Monday, asking a federal judge to declare that the state’s process for addressing allegations of serious workplace safety problems violates the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

The dispute stems from a citation issued by L&I against Amazon in March at the company’s flagship warehouse in Kent, Wash., south of Seattle.

The department found that “many Amazon jobs involve repetitive motions, lifting, carrying, twisting, and other physical work,” and said workers were “required to perform these tasks at such a fast pace that it increases the risk of injury.”

L&I called the violation willful due to similar citations at three other Amazon sites.

Amazon has appealed all of the citations and disputes the allegations.

Its suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, focuses on a provision of state law that requires employers to take action to resolve alleged safety problems deemed serious, willful, or repeated violations, even while an appeal is pending.

Normally, there would be a “stay of abatement” during an appeal, allowing an employer to wait to address and resolve the alleged problems pending the outcome.

State law violates the right to due process by “requiring employers like Amazon to incur significant financial and operational burdens to abate alleged hazards before the Department has proven a violation of any workplace safety rules and failing to provide a meaningful opportunity for employers to contest the abatement requirement or appeal the denial of a request to stay abatement,” the suit alleges.

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In a March 20 news release, L&I said it “provided numerous options Amazon can consider to reduce the risk of injuries. Some examples include installing height adjustable platforms to reduce awkward lifting, using powered equipment to move heavy pallets, and setting a safe pace of work for each process.”

It added, “Because L&I has cited Amazon for similar violations at three Washington locations, the company is aware of these hazards. Therefore, the most recent violation is classified as a willful violation and comes with a significantly higher penalty than those issued as a result of earlier inspections. The company has not yet made necessary changes to improve workplace safety and has consistently denied the association between pace of work and injury rates.” 

Amazon says the claims came “despite the absence of any specific ergonomic standards in either the Washington or federal occupational health and safety laws.”

The suit asks the court to issue “an injunction prohibiting the Department from requiring that Amazon implement costly, burdensome, and potentially unnecessary abatement measures until the Department carries its burden of proving that Amazon has, in fact, violated any safety or health regulation.”

We’ve contacted representatives of Amazon and L&I for further comment.

Update: Amazon sent this statement: “The safety of our employees is our top priority, and we disagree with these allegations and look forward to showing the facts as the legal process plays out. In this particular filing, we’re challenging an unusual state requirement that says we need to change our operations prior to a full and fair hearing on the merits, which we don’t believe is the right approach.”

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Here is Amazon’s suit:

W.D.Wash._2_22-cv-01404_1_0 by GeekWire on Scribd

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