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04/05/2021

Labor Board Says Amazon Illegally Fired Two Activist Employees

Amazon was in the wrong when it fired two employees who brought up concerns about the retailer’s climate change impact and working conditions for its warehouse employees, according to a decision by the National Labor Relations Board.
Amazon warehouse workers

Amazon was in the wrong when it fired two employees who brought up concerns about the retailer’s climate change impact and working conditions for its warehouse employees, according to a decision by the National Labor Relations Board.

The decision--which urges Amazon to settle with the employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, lest the NLRB accuse the e-commerce giant of unfair labor practices--may be just the tip of the iceberg. The NLRB may turn the many publicized complaints of Amazon unfair labor practices into a broader investigation, CNBC reported. Reportedly, dozens of Amazon workers faced retaliation after speaking up about working conditions, with many complaining about Covid-19 safety measures. The NLRB’s decision was first reported by The New York Times.

Executive Summary

The Labor Board’s decision comes at the same time Amazon is experiencing a wave of criticism over its alleged efforts to tamper with unionization attempts. Unionization could have serious implications for Amazon, with workers pushing for higher pay, better working conditions for drivers and warehouse workers and increased safety standards and precautions.

Last month, an Alabama warehouse became the first Amazon workforce group to hold a union vote, conducted by the NLRB. As of this writing, the vote count has not been publicized. 

“The results could alter the shape of the labor movement and one of America’s largest private employers,” the NYT reported.

America’s largest retail union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, also filed a complaint last year against Amazon alleging anti-competitive behaviors during the pandemic and not addressing the impact on its employees.

As for Amazon, the company maintains the employees who were fired repeatedly violated internal policies.

“We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful,” Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokeswoman, told the NYT. “We terminated these employees not for talking publicly about working conditions, safety or sustainability but, rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies.”

Retail workers who were part of a union tended to fare better during the Covid-19 pandemic, with more job security than non-union workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute. While Amazon employees earn a starting wage of $15 per hour, working conditions, including marathon-like shifts and lack of bathroom breaks, have been heavily reported in the press for several years. Amazon typically denies these reports.