A former Colorado Amazon employee filed a complaint to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) last week alleging that the company fired her because she raised concerns over Amazon’s COVID-19 workplace health and safety standards.
Linda Rodriguez, who worked in the Amazon warehouse in Thornton since 2019, alleges that she was fired last August for complaining about Amazon’s sloppy contact tracing and failure to provide COVID-19 health and safety information to Spanish-language employees in Spanish.
“It seemed like Amazon just wanted to pressure people to keep coming to work during the pandemic, even though we were terrified,” said Rodriguez in a news release, “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.”
Filing this complaint to the CDLE is a prelude to filing a lawsuit. If Amazon did fire Rodriguez for taking issue with workplace health and safety standards relating to COVID-19, it would be a violation of Colorado’s Public Health Emergency Whistleblower (PHEW) Act.
The PHEW Act was passed in 2020 to protect workers who complain about health threats related to COVID-19. The bill, sponsored by Democrats, passed the Colorado Senate and House of Representatives on party lines with the exception of state Senator Kevin Priola (R-Henderson) who voted in support of the bill.
Rodriguez is being represented by Denver non-profit Towards Justice and Swain Law LLC. David Seligman, Executive Director of Towards Justice, said that the PHEW Act provides protection for workers not available in other states.
“The purpose of Colorado’s PHEW Act is to protect workers’ right to raise their voice about workplace safety issues,” Seligman said. “Colorado recognized that worker voice is essential to protecting workers and the public health. We are proud to represent Ms. Rodriguez in her fight to hold Amazon accountable.”
Amazon could be held liable for lost wages or $10,000, whichever amount is higher.
This is not the first time Amazon’s practices have come under scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic. New York’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the company in February for failing to protect workers during the pandemic. In March, the National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon retaliated against employees in Chicago for participating in safety strikes demanding more COVID-19 protections.
Since the start of the pandemic, Amazon has reported nearly 20,000 COVID-19 cases among its U.S. employees. Over the same time frame, the company’s profits increased nearly 200%.
Amazon responded to Rodriguez’s complaint by claiming that she had been fired for “time card fraud” rather than because of her concerns over COVID-19 protocols.
“The facts of this case are clear: Ms. Rodriguez was terminated for timecard fraud or ‘time theft,’” an Amazon spokesperson told Colorado Public Radio. “On at least a half-dozen occasions over a ten-day period, Ms. Rodriguez clocked in and then either left the building or failed to report to her work assignment.”
While Rodriguez wants accountability from Amazon, she hopes that speaking out about her experience inspires others to do the same.
“Amazon may be one of the richest and most powerful companies in the world,” Rodriguez said. “It made a lot of that money during the pandemic when workers like me were working 60-hour weeks doing brutal and dangerous work inside its warehouses. I saw that Amazon was scared of me speaking out for myself and my co-workers. It intimidated me and ultimately fired me when I raised my voice, but I’m not backing down. I’m going to keep speaking out about this company, no matter how powerful and rich they are. And I hope other workers hear me.”