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Amazon Fired Techies Who Aided Warehouse Workers, NLRB Memo Says

Nov. 1, 2021, 9:09 PM

New details have emerged about Amazon.com Services LLC’s firing of two technology workers who publicly advocated for the online retail giant’s warehouse workers involved in union drives around the country.

Amazon settled labor law charges tied to the terminations in September as part of a redacted agreement with the agency. The case closure allowed the advice division of the NLRB general counsel’s office to make public a memo that had directed the agency’s Seattle office to issue a complaint against Amazon’s e-commerce services unit.

The advice memo, released Oct. 29, provides a window into Amazon’s alleged conduct while it responded to mounting efforts to unionize warehouse workers.

Amazon fought off a closely watched union bid this spring by workers at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., but an NLRB regional director has recommended rerunning the election because the company’s installation of an on-site mailbox spoiled the conditions necessary for a fair vote. Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island filed for a union election last week.

The advice division’s memo focused on a pair of tech workers who had been involved with the worker advocacy group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. They were focused on persuading the company to adopt a plan to reduce carbon emissions, sever relationships with fossil fuel companies, and take other steps to address climate change.

After warehouse workers contacted the climate justice group, the two tech workers collected signatures for the warehouse workers’ petition and used their personal Twitter accounts to criticize warehouse working conditions and advocate for action, the NLRB advice memo said. They also emailed a large tech-employee listserv condemning as racist a leaked Amazon memo on a plan to make a fired warehouse worker the “not smart, inarticulate” face of the unionizing movement.

“In an act of classic collective action, the Charging Parties boldly led hundreds of highly skilled tech employees with demonstrated power to join forces with the warehouse movement, comprised of thousands of employees who have remained largely voiceless thus far,” according to the advice memo.

Alleged Bid to ‘Break’ Alliance

Amazon fired the two tech workers 90 minutes after the climate justice group invited thousands of Amazon workers to a virtual townhall to discuss warehouse worker concerns, the advice memo said. The company said it terminated the pair for violating its external communications and solicitation policies.

The NLRB lawyers in the advice division rejected Amazon’s justification.

“The Employer has failed to rebut the inference of unlawful motivation, i.e., that the discharges were an effort to slow the expanding influence of the two tech employee leaders and break the tech-warehouse employee alliance,” the advice memo said. “On top of the Employer’s admission that there are no comparators, there is evidence that the Employer has tolerated other employees’ climate-related external communications and other unprotected employee solicitations for, e.g., girl scout cookies and Black Lives Matter.”

The NLRB complaint also accused Amazon of unlawfully applying its external communications and solicitation policies to restrict the two tech workers’ rights to collective action to improve the workplace.

Amazon told Bloomberg Law that it sacked the two workers for repeatedly violating internal policies and didn’t admit to liability in the settlement deal.

“We have reached an agreement that resolves the legal issues in this case,” the company said.

Tom Giger, an official with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union affiliate that filed charges on behalf of the workers, said the case ended with a positive outcome.

“It certainly shows that workers can speak out in the workplace and be protected by the law, even if they’re not union members,” Giger said.

The case is Amazon.com Services, N.L.R.B. Gen. Coun. Advice Memo., Case 19-CA-266977, advice memo published 10/29/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Iafolla in Washington at riafolla@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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