Amazon Loses in Labor Complaint
WASHINGTON – The National Labor Relations Board’s finding announced this week that online retailer Amazon retaliated unfairly against two of its headquarters staff members is paving the way for a possible lawsuit against the company.
The two workers publicly criticized Amazon for its climate policies and its treatment of warehouse workers. They said they were fired in retaliation for their activism.
The NLRB ruling coincides with a vote by Amazon workers on whether to unionize.
The results of the vote count are expected within days, which could have far-reaching consequences for Amazon’s millions of customers.
The unfair labor accusation by activist employees Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa were part of a stream of complaints that led nearly 6,000 workers to try to unionize at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., plant.
Dozens of workers complained to the National Labor Relations Board about working conditions in recent years.
In a high-profile case, employees criticized Amazon in 2011 after workers in the company’s Breinigsville, Pa., warehouse were required to continue working after the temperature at their job site reached 100-degrees. Some workers suffered dehydration and collapsed.
Loading bay doors remained closed out of concern for theft. Only after publicized complaints did Amazon install air conditioning.
In a more recent dispute, Amazon workers organized a walk-out in September 2019 that they called a Global Climate Strike. It was based partly on a report that the company’s operations emitted 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the previous year.
A group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice rallied more than 1,800 employees in 25 cities and 14 countries to participate in protesting Amazon’s environmental impact. Cunningham and Costa, who were designers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, were leaders of the group.
The group petitioned Amazon’s top executives with three demands, namely to stop donating to politicians who deny climate change; to halt contracts with oil and gas companies that are not environmentally sensitive; and to work toward zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Amazon stepped up its environmental program after the protest, such as by committing to reducing half its shipments to net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Ongoing discontent among workers led late last month to the vote on whether to unionize at the Bessemer warehouse.
A victory for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in Bessemer would likely prompt other unionization efforts throughout Amazon’s national and international network.
The National Labor Relations Board is tallying the vote.
In the case of Cunningham and Costa, they won where other Amazon employees lost because their claim filed last October accused Amazon of retaliation. Other recent employee complaints focused largely on what they said was a lack of adequate safety and health protection during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amazon employs nearly a million U.S. workers. Its warehouse workers were categorized as “essential” under Centers for Disease Control guidelines. They were unable to work from home.
Amazon denies Cunningham and Costa were fired in retaliation for their public criticisms. They were terminated for violating policies that forbid external communications about company business, according to the company.
After they were fired in April 2020, powerful Democratic senators such as Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California — now the vice president — wrote to Amazon for an explanation of how the job action was different from retaliation.
“In order to understand how the termination of employees that raised concerns about health and safety conditions did not constitute retaliation for whistle-blowing, we are requesting information about Amazon’s policies regarding grounds for employee discipline and termination,” the letter said.
The decision by the National Labor Relations Board regional director that the unfair labor claims by Cunningham and Costa have merit does not by itself carry a punishment for Amazon. Instead, it recommends that the company try to settle with the women.
If Amazon fails to reach a settlement agreement with them, National Labor Relations Board procedures allow the agency to sue on behalf of workers.
In The News
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - It could be the biggest labor action in Hollywood since a Writers Guild of America strike... Read More
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - It could be the biggest labor action in Hollywood since a Writers Guild of America strike crippled the entertainment industry for some 14 weeks in late 2007 and early 2008. Beginning next week, members of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees... Read More
Richard Trumka, the powerful president of the AFL-CIO who rose from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to preside over one... Read More
Richard Trumka, the powerful president of the AFL-CIO who rose from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to preside over one of the largest labor organizations in the world, died Thursday. He was 72. In a note to staff, Liz Shuler, secretary treasurer for the 12.5 million-member... Read More
The Labor Department has made $1.5 million available to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the... Read More
The Labor Department has made $1.5 million available to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to develop partnerships with community-based organizations and other non-profits seeking to empower women workers by strengthening their understanding of their labor rights and... Read More
If the White House and Congress are serious about making clean energy a meaningful part of the still-to-finalized infrastructure package,... Read More
If the White House and Congress are serious about making clean energy a meaningful part of the still-to-finalized infrastructure package, they need to enact a 10-year extension of an investment tax credit that has buoyed the industry in recent years. At least that’s the position of... Read More
National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the United States, issued a rebuke of the Centers for... Read More
National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the United States, issued a rebuke of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated public health recommendations for people who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The CDC’s updated guidance states “fully vaccinated people no longer... Read More
Amazon appears to have enough votes to thwart an effort to unionize its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. By Friday afternoon,... Read More
Amazon appears to have enough votes to thwart an effort to unionize its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. By Friday afternoon, the company had crossed the threshold to secure a majority of votes, with 1,700 warehouse workers voting against the union and 700 voting in favor. A... Read More