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Is Amazon firing workers for speaking out?
Do you feel as though you would be fired if you tried to unionize against Amazon? Are you scared to speak out on issues within Amazon because you fear repercussions?
Many other employees agree with you and many have filed charges against Amazon with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). These charges have mainly been about Amazon restricting their employees’ right to organize and have tripled since the pandemic began.
Fired, interrogated, disciplined: Amazon warehouse organizers allege year of retaliation
As reported by NBC News on March 31, 2021 Amazon currently has at least 37 charges that were filed to the NLRB. Many of the complaints accuse Amazon of interfering with their workers’ right to organize or form a union. This number is triple the amount that was filed against Amazon in 2019 and six times the number filed in 2018. In comparison to the high number of cases filed for Amazon, Walmart, which is Amazon’s biggest competitor, only had eight charges since February of 2020. The volume of cases has caused the NLRB to consider whether the “meritorious allegations warrant a consolidated effort between the regions.” Normally an NLRB charge would be investigated by only one regional office. Although, in some instances it has combined cases into a single complaint, this has been done for Walmart and McDonald’s, if the board believes a pattern may be emerging.
Labor experts believe that the surge in charges being filed reflects an increase in organizing amongst a small portion of Amazon’s 500,000 warehouse workers. Amazon workers have been coming together to demand better working conditions at Amazon warehouses across the United States. As the activism amongst their employees has increased so has Amazon’s efforts in anti-union propaganda. NBC News has interviewed over two dozen Amazon workers and nine of them said they had been fired, disciplined, or retaliated against for protected activity and three of whom filed NLRB complaints since the pandemic started. The Amazon employees believe that Amazon selectively enforces their policies to target those speaking out for worker rights. “Having a union would be a disaster for Amazon, so it’s pulling out all the stops to prevent workers from organizing.” said John Logan, a director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.
The highest organizing campaign is in Bessemer, Alabama. This campaign has over 5,800 workers in the midst of a precedent-setting vote to form a union. Amazon workers in this warehouse have described how Amazon required them to attend mandatory meetings to hear why the union was not beneficial to workers. This Amazon warehouse is filled with signs encouraging workers to vote against the union and the company set up a website and a hashtag to warn the employees of union fees. “They are doing everything they can to convince the people to “Vote no,” said Darryl Richardson, an employee in the Bessemer warehouse. Amazon’s anti-union campaign states that union members would have to pay $500 a year in dues. An Amazon employee, Courtney Bowden, was fired from her job last mark after advocating for sick pay for part-time workers. She filed a complaint to the NLRB and after management targeted her by “selectively and disparate” enforcing rules around how employees need to wear their hair. After an investigation by the NLRB it was found to merit the allegations that Amazon had illegally retaliated against Bowden. After reaching a private settlement with Amazon, Bowden withdrew her NLRB charge. “If what they set out to do is shut down organizing, I think they are doing a good job right now,” Bowden said.
Labor experts say that Amazon’s warehouses are designed to detect organizing through surveillance technology. “Amazon controls workers’ bodies and movement in such minute ways, ostensibly to track productivity, that people cannot have any purpose in the workplace except for to produce,” said Veena Dubal, a law professor at the University of California. Senior warehouse workers are trained to inform higher-ups if they hear workers discussing organizing.
Chris Smalls, who used to work at an Amazon warehouse organized a walkout on March 30,2020 to protest the lack of COVID protections for warehouse workers. He and three other men held signs out front of the facility, Amazon fired and disciplined all three of them in the following weeks. Amazon said that they fired Smalls for breaking a 14 day quarantine after coming into contact with someone who had COVID. Smalls said other employees were in contact with the employee who tested positive for longer time periods but that he was singled out after asking management to sanitize the warehouse and to be more transparent about positive COVID cases. A week later, all three men attended a second protest outside of the warehouse. Another of the men was fired two weeks later for violating Amazon’s “vulgar language” policy after a 2-minute interaction with another employee. In June 2020, Bryson filed an unfair labor practice charge to the NLRB, accusing Amazon of illegally retaliating against him for organizing. The NLRB investigated and found that the charge had merit.
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