SEATTLE – Amazon unlawfully retaliated against two of its most famous internal critics for firing them last year, the National Labor Relations Commission identified.
Employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, have openly pushed the company to reduce its impact on climate change and address concerns about warehouse workers.
The agency told Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Costa that it would accuse Amazon of unfair labor practices if the company does not resolve the case, according to a letter Cunningham shared with The New York Times.
“It was a moral victory and really shows that we are on the right side of history and on the right side of the law,” Ms. Cunningham said.
The two women were among dozens of Amazon workers who last year told the labor board of the company’s retaliation actions, but in most other cases, workers have complained about the safety of the pandemic.
Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokesperson, said: “We support the right of every employee to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with a complete waiver of the Our internal policies are all legal, ”said Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokesperson. “We have terminated contracts with these employees not because of public speaking about working conditions, safety or sustainability, but because of continually violating internal policies.”
The agency told NBC News that allegations of unfair labor practices in Amazon were so common that the labor agency could turn them into a national investigation. This agency typically handles investigations at its regional offices.
While Amazon’s $ 15-per-hour starting salary is more than double the federal minimum, its labor activity faces intense scrutiny in Washington and elsewhere. Focus has increased over the past year, as online orders soared during a pandemic and Amazon has expanded its American workforce to nearly a million. Amazon warehouse workers are considered essential workers and cannot work from home.
This week, the national labor council is tallying thousands of votes to determine if nearly 6,000 workers will form a union at an Amazon warehouse outside of Birmingham, Ala. The union said the workers face too much pressure to produce and are closely monitored by the company to ensure quota is met.
The result could reshape the labor movement and one of America’s largest private employers.
Ms. Costa and Ms. Cunningham, who work as designers at Seattle’s Amazon headquarters, began to criticize the company publicly in 2018. They were part of a small group of employees who wanted the company to do. more to address climate impacts. The group, the Amazon Employee for Climate Justice, has more than 8,700 colleagues supporting its efforts.
Over time, Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Costa expanded their protests. After Amazon told them it violated its external communications policy by publicly speaking about the business, their team held 400 employees to speak up, deliberately violating the policy to raise public opinion. point.
They also began raising safety concerns in Amazon warehouses at the start of the pandemic. Amazon fired Ms. Costa and Ms. Cunningham in April of last year, not long after their team announced an internal event for warehouse staff to talk to technology staff about their workplace conditions.
After the women were fired, a number of Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Kamala Harris in California, wrote letters to Amazon expressing concerns about the possibility of retaliation. And Tim Bray, an internet pioneer and former vice president of Amazon’s cloud computing group, resigned in protest.
Mr. Bray said he was pleased to hear the labor council’s findings and hoped that Amazon would resolve the case. “The policy so far has been” not admit, admit nothing, “he said. “Here’s their chance to rethink that for a bit.”
Ms. Cunningham said that, despite the company’s denial, she believes she and Ms. Costa are Amazon’s top targets because they are the most visible members of the Amazon Employee for Climate Justice.
The Labor Council also upheld the complaint involving Jonathan Bailey, the co-founder of Amazonians United, a labor advocacy group. The agency filed a lawsuit against Amazon on the basis of Bailey’s allegations that the company violated the law by questioning him after a stroll last year at the Queens warehouse where he worked.
“They realized that Amazon had violated our rights,” said Mr. Bailey. “I think the message it conveys that workers should hear and understand is, yes, we’re all experiencing it. But there are also a lot of us who are fighting ”.
Amazon has addressed Mr. Bailey’s case, not admitting misconduct, and agreed to post notices notifying employees of their rights in the rooms. Ms. Anderson, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the company disagrees with the allegations made in the case of Mr. Bailey. “We pride ourselves in providing an inclusive environment where employees can excel without fear of retaliation, intimidation or harassment,” she said.
Kate Conger Contribution reports.