Amazon has sued Washington state’s Department of Labor & Industries, claiming an order by government officials requiring the internet mega-giant to reduce hazards at a warehouse breaks the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.
The state’s safety watchdogs inspected an Amazon fulfillment center – code-named BFI4 – in Kent, Washington, and in March cited the corporation for putting workers at risk in dangerous conditions, claiming there were “serious willful” violations of safety rules. The online souk was fined $60,000, and its bosses were told to put together, and execute, a plan on how they will improve safety at the facility.
The Washington officials’ main concern was that Amazon employees were under pressure to lift, carry, and twist at a rapid pace, which was bound to lead to injury.
Amazon subsequently lodged an appeal against that citation, and asked the US state to hold off enforcing any punishment until 2023. The web titan’s lawyers complained it could face fines of up to $70,000 per day if it loses its appeal against the write-up.
The super-corp’s chief beef is that – as per the citation – it has to plan out and implement expensive changes to its operations before that appeal is even heard, which it sees as a denial of due process. Amazon also complained it isn’t even sure what it’s done wrong, that it stands accused of breaking rules on ergonomic hazards “despite the absence of any specific ergonomic standards in either the Washington or federal occupational health and safety laws,” and that no specific regulations were cited, just that it allegedly failed to maintain “a hazard-free workplace.”
Before the department proves any violation, employers are required to concede under oath and at risk of criminal sanction that a violation occurred
Furthermore, the internet behemoth is upset that businesses, such as itself, challenging the department’s citations must – as per the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) – sign an “employer certification of abatement form,” forcing them to admit safety hazards exist, which opens them up to risk of criminal penalties. All in all, Amazon thinks this process is unconstitutional, hence its lawsuit, which asks for the citation to be blocked on those grounds and its legal fees paid.
“Before the department proves any violation, employers are required to concede under oath and at risk of criminal sanction that a violation occurred. This highly unusual structure stacks the deck in the department’s favor, leaving employers no meaningful opportunity to contest an abatement requirement,” Amazon’s lawsuit [PDF], filed in federal court in Seattle, reads.
“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, WISHA’s stay of abatement procedures violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit continued.
The Fourteenth Amendment states that no US citizen can be denied due process of law and are entitled to equal protection. Amazon claimed the citation to sort out the alleged safety hazards, before any appeal is heard, would require redesigning the warehouse: equipment would have to be moved or installed, and workers would have to be trained. The process would disrupt its commercial operations, and cost the company millions of dollars, its lawyers argued. Amazon doesn’t want to do this if there’s a chance it could win its appeal.
“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,” an Amazon spokesperson told The Register.
“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.”
The Register also asked the state’s dept of labor for comment. ®