Amazon Wrongly Fired Workers For Speaking Out, NLRB Says

Amazon fulfillment center feature

The National Labor Relations Board has accused Amazon of illegally firing two tech workers last year who spoke out publicly about its treatment of fulfillment workers and its sustainability policies, and upheld a complaint by a worker who led a Queens, NY walkout in 2020, the New York Times reported.

Meantime a final vote tally is still pending from a unionization effort at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, AL, which has become a political flashpoint for the future of organized labor. The mail-in voting, which Amazon had unsuccessfully opposed before the NLRB, closed March 29.

The NLRB said Amazon illegally terminated Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who worked for years as UX designers at its Seattle headquarters, after they had publicly spoken out on the issues. Amazon countered they were not fired for speaking out publicly, but for repeatedly violating the company’s external communication policy.

If the company does settle its case with Cunningham and Costa, according to correspondence shared with the Times, the NLRB would charge it with unfair labor practices.

The NLRB also upheld a complaint by Jonathan Bailey, who co-founded a worker’s group, Amazonians United, the Times reported. The NLRB complaint was based on Bailey’s accusation that Amazon illegally interrogated him after he helped lead a highly publicized walkout at a Queens, NY fulfillment center where he works.

In a highly unusual move, Amazon apologized for a recent tweet that attacked U.S. Rep Mark Pocan, D-WI, who posted on Twitter March 24: “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a “progressive workplace” when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”

The response tweet that day from Amazon News countered: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us. The truth is that we have over a million incredible employees around the world who are proud of what they do, and have great wages and health care from day one.”

Dave Clark, SVP of Worldwide Operations and Customer Service and CEO of Worldwide Consumer for Amazon, also took a shot at U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT in a March 24 tweet, after Sanders said he would visit the union organizers in Bessemer, AL. Recode reported that the Twitter war with Sanders, Pocan and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA was started after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos complained the company wasn’t pushing back hard enough against its labor critics in Washington. There has been no official comment from Amazon on those tweets.

Amazon said its response tweet to Pocan was incorrect in that it “did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfillment centers. A typical Amazon fulfillment center has dozens of restrooms, and employees are able to step away from their work station at any time. If any employee in a fulfillment center has a different experience, we encourage them to speak to their manager and we’ll work to fix it.”

The blog post then went on to cite numerous tweets and media accounts making the fairly obvious point that timely access to restrooms has been a problem for years across the trucking and delivery sectors.