About a year ago, Amazon fired two employees who criticized the company. Employees publicly called on the company to do more work to reduce its carbon footprint, and distributed a petition among Amazon employees asking them to provide better pay and support for warehouse workers. According to a report in the New York Times, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Amazon had fired them, which was illegal and retaliated.
Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa are both designers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. Their dispute with the management began in 201
They and a few other employees unite others. On September 20, 2018, thousands of employees went on strike to protest the company’s climate policy. The lawyer told Cunningham, Costa Rica and others that they violated company policy when they screamed, which restricts employees from talking publicly about Amazon. The team eventually wrote an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos and the board of directors. The open letter was signed by more than 8,700 Amazon employees.
More than a year later, with the advent of the pandemic, Cunningham and Costa were increasingly worried about the condition of Amazon’s warehouses. There, due to the pandemic, workers who work hard under normal conditions are under greater pressure. Supply chains around the world are endless, and many people in a lockdown state turn to Amazon. The number of orders has surged, and the workload of the fulfillment center has increased. Even when colleagues are diagnosed with COVID-19, the “basic” status of warehouse workers allows them to still receive goods. In a warehouse in Minnesota, the infection rate was four times that of the surrounding community.
Cunningham and Costa, together with other Amazon technology employees, distributed petitions internally to provide warehouse employees with more hazard pay, sick leave and childcare services. The team also planned a virtual event for warehouses and skilled workers so that the latter can directly understand the working conditions of the former.
Soon thereafter, Amazon fired Cunningham and Costa, claiming that they “repeatedly violated internal policies.” Two women complained to the NLRB.
NLRB recently told Amazon that if it does not work with Cunningham and Costa to resolve the complaint, the agency will formally accuse the company of unfair labor practices. Such situations may lead to settlements, injunctions or remedial orders.
The NLRB’s decision comes at a time when Amazon is increasingly scrutinizing the way it deals with employees and how it responds to such criticisms. Amazon recently resolved another NLRB complaint, this time with a warehouse worker who helped organize a strike at its distribution center in Queens, New York. Worker Jonathan Bailey said he was falsely accused of trying to stifle his union activities for harassing a company. He continued to work in the same Amazon warehouse, and Amazon had to issue a notice reminding employees of his right to organize.
Amazon has been defending public opinion. Amazon’s public relations company’s Twitter account has recently been flooded with outrageous tweets, and the company’s security engineer raised a support ticket because he believes the account has been hacked. One of the tweets questioned the accuracy of the report, which stated that Amazon employees and contractors used bottles to relieve stress at work. “You really don’t believe in peeing, do you?” The tweet was in response to a message made by Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI). The company later apologized to members of Congress. “The tweet is incorrect,” Amazon said.
According to the NBC News investigation, since February 2020, the cases of Bailey, Cunningham, and Costa are only three of at least 37 NLRB complaints against Amazon, pointing out that Wal-Mart has only 8 cases in the same period.
Normally, NLRB complaints are handled in each of its 26 regional offices. However, the sheer numbers raised against Amazon prompted the agency to consider conducting a nationwide investigation of Amazon’s labor practices.