A US district judge recently ordered Amazon to “cease and desist” from retaliating against employees involved in union organizing in the workplace.
In a 30-page ruling (PDF) issued November 18, Judge Diane Gujarati of the United States District Court for the District of Eastern New York also ordered the world’s largest e-commerce company to “post, distribute, and read” the Court’s order to employees at the company’s JFK8 fulfillment facility in Staten Island, New York.
The ruling was issued in response to Amazon’s April 2020 retaliatory firing of Gerald Bryson who, together with other employees at the JFK8 facility, advocated for a more humane workplace and protection from the global COVID-19 pandemic. The judge’s ruling states that Bryson and his coworkers advocated “for workplace health and safety protections in light of the Covid-19 pandemic”. They also protested “Amazon’s failure to provide greater Covid-19 safety protections to employees,” according to the ruling.
Judge Gujarati wrote in her ruling:
The Court finds that there is reasonable cause to believe that an unfair labor practice has been committed by Amazon with respect to the termination of Bryson, and determines that the issuance of an order directing Respondent to cease and desist from taking certain actions and directing Respondent to post, distribute, and read the Court’s order to employees at the JFK8 Facility is just and proper.
According to the ruling, Kathy Drew King, the Regional Director of Region 29 of the National Labor Relations Board, filed the petition in July alleging that there was “reasonable cause to believe that Respondent has engaged in unfair labor practices affecting commerce in violation” of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and that Bryson was “unlawfully terminated from employment by Amazon for having engaged in certain protected concerted activity.”
In an earlier blog post, I wrote:
In recent years, Amazon has faced accusations of rights violations in the form of unhygienic warehouses, labour malpractices, anticompetitive practices, aggressive tax evasion practices, big data practices, violation of our privacy and data rights, bedding of climate-killing fossil fuel companies, confirmed breaching of “EU antitrust rules by distorting competition in online retail markets“, Orwellian “monitoring of organized labor and social and environmental movements“, and ongoing COVID-19 profiteering.
The subject of the post was the global Black Friday day of action against Amazon staged by Amazon workers, trade unionists, racial justice activists, environmentalists, and progressive advocates, on Black Friday, November 27, 2020, under the rallying cry, #MakeAmazonPay. The boycott sought to strengthen “a growing international coalition of Amazon warehouse workers, tax justice advocates, racial justice activists, data justice campaigners, and environmental rights activists against a corporate predator that’s exploiting tens of thousands of people around the world, while, in some cases, dictating policies of governments.”
I quoted the left-wing Greek economist and politician Ioannis “Yanis” Varoufakis as saying:
Amazon treats its workers as expendable robots. Reducible to their capacity to pick and pack under conditions that crush their souls and bend their bodies.
As reported by the Guardian, Amazon’s COVID-19 pandemic profiteering had just helped its founder, Jeff Bezos, then the world’s world’s richest person, to add a whopping US$70 billion to his personal wealth.
Meanwhile, Tim Bray, a former VP with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s cloud-computing platform, had just protested Amazon’s “chickenshit” firing of workers protesting the company’s inadequate protections against COVID-19 at the company’s warehouses by quitting his US$1 million job. In a scathing blog post, Bray wrote:
I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19… Remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned. The victims weren’t abstract entities but real people; here are some of their names: Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls. I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both. Right? … Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.
Regarding the Court’s requirement for Amazon to “cease and desist” from its anti-union retaliatoy practices and “post, distribute, and read” the Court’s order to employees at the company’s JFK8 centre, Judge Gujarati wrote:
Based on the record before the Court, the Court concludes that issuance of an order directing Respondent to cease and desist from discharging employees because they engaged in protected concerted activity and from, in any like or related manner interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed to them by Section 7 of the NLRA and directing Respondent to post, distribute, and read the Court’s order to employees at the JFK8 Facility is just and proper.
As an initial matter, cease and desist orders are appropriate in order to prevent employers from engaging in unfair labor practices.
In 2021, Amazon Amazon paid anti-union consultants a whopping $4.3 million, according to the company’s recent filings (PDF) with the U.S. Department of Labor. As per the filings, Amazon explained “the circumstances of all payments, including the terms of any oral agreement or understanding pursuant to which they were made” as follows:
Independent labor consulting firm was retained in response to large scale union organizing efforts, including to assist us in expressing the companys opinion on union representation, and to educate employees about the issues, election process and their rights under the law.
According to media reports, Amazon dispatched its paid labor “consultants” to the JFK8 warehouse, which employees about 5,000 people, in an effort to stop its workers from voting to join the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), an organization that was formed only last year. The employees defied the company and its army of labour consultants. In April, they voted to join the ALU, which is led by Christian Smalls, a former JFK8 manager fired by Amazon in 2020.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders congratulated Amazon’s JFK8 employees and, in a tweet, called their historic vote “a shot in the arm for this country’s labor movement.”
While the judge’s injunction against Amazon does not order Bryson’s reinstatement, “it does order Amazon to cease and desist from further discharging any employees for protected activities under the NLRA, or in any like or related manner interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed to them by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act,” said the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a statement. The regulatory watchdog’s statement added that Amazon “could be held in contempt of court” if it violates the judge’s “just and proper” cease-and-desist order.
“The Judge’s order in this case recognizes Amazon’s unlawful conduct and provides the full force of a federal court injunction to prohibit Amazon from further discharging employees for engaging in protected concerted activity,” said Theresa Poor, a Brooklyn-based regional director of the NLRB. “This relief is critical to ensure that Amazon employees can fully and freely exercise their rights to join together and improve their working conditions, including by forming, assisting, or joining a union.”