2nd French court orders Amazon to better protect workers

World

Amazon and union lawyers gather prior to the start of at the Appel Court in Versailles, west of Paris, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Last week, a French court ruled in a case brought by unions that Amazon warehouses selling nonessential items must shut down or face a fine of a million euros a day. Amazon is appealing. Amazon is appealing. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

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PARIS (AP) — Amazon is keeping all of its French warehouses closed for the time being, after an appeals court upheld a ruling saying the company hadn’t done enough to protect workers from the coronavirus.

Unions in France and beyond welcomed Friday’s ruling by the appeals court in Versailles as a comeuppance for the online behemoth, and expressed hope that negotiations with Amazon management on new safety measures can start next week.

The standoff has drawn global attention, as worldwide demand for Amazon’s services soars because confined consumers can no longer shop in stores.

Amazon temporarily shut all its French distribution centers last week, after a lower court ordered it to stop selling non-essential goods while it works out new safety measures with staff. Amazon argued that it was too complicated to separate out its activities, and appealed.

The appeals court upheld the overall requirement for Amazon to work out new safety measures. But it also expanded the products Amazon is allowed to sell, adding electronics, office and pet supplies. The original ruling only permitted sales of food and medical and cleaning supplies.

The appeals court also reduced the potential fines Amazon faces for future violations, from 1 million euros per infraction to 100,000 euros.

Amazon said in a statement Friday that it will keep its distribution centers closed at least through April 28. The company insisted that its facilities are safe, and said it had involved worker representatives in discussions about security measures.

“We don’t think this decision is in the best interest of the French, of our partners and thousands of small French businesses that count on Amazon to develop their activities,” it said,

But some workers say the company placed profits over staff safety as virus outbreaks erupted around France. The courts found Amazon didn’t do enough to enforce social distancing, to ensure that turnstiles and locker rooms were virus-free, or to increase cleaning of its warehouses.

Unions say one worker infected with the virus is in intensive care.

The court rulings “will require (Amazon) to work differently, which is not such a bad thing,” said Jean-Francois Berot, a member of the SUD-Solidaires union who packages and picks up goods in an Amazon warehouse in Saran south of Paris.

“The judge reminded them that there are laws, and they have to adhere to them,” he said. He hopes negotiations with unions can start as soon as Monday.

Labor unions elsewhere are also watching.

“The court’s decision … means that it’s time for Amazon to start behaving like a responsible employer and establish a productive relationship with labor unions, in France and elsewhere,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union.

Amazon dominates the online delivery market in France, with 431 million euros in sales in 2018 and more than 10,000 employees.

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