The U.S. National Labour Relations Board has determined that Amazon illegally interrogated a warehouse worker that led colleagues in a strike over the company’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, per a Monday report by Motherboard.
Amazon worker Jonathan Bailey led 13 workers in a walkout from a company warehouse in New York City’s Queens borough on March 20, 2020, after a colleague tested positive for the virus and was sent home. That followed another walkout at the same warehouse two days earlier under similar circumstances, for which Bailey was also a lead organiser.
After the two walkouts, Amazon sent an executive who portrayed himself as a former employee for the FBI to pull Bailey into a meeting and accuse him of engaging in conduct that could be construed as harassment of colleagues. The manager told Bailey that he would need to be notified before any subsequent actions, Motherboard reports:
The following day, a regional manager who introduced himself as a former FBI agent pulled Bailey aside into management’s offices and interrogated Bailey about his role in the walkout, told him his behaviour might be harassment, and demanded Bailey contact him before any future walkouts, according to Bailey’s NLRB testimony.
“He interrogated me for an hour and a half,” Bailey told Motherboard. “A week later I was called into the office again and they wrote me up for harassment, saying people felt hurt by what I did.” Motherboard obtained an audio recording of that meeting.
U.S. federal labour laws prohibit employers from retaliating against workers attempting to unionise or who stage collective action against unfair or hazardous conditions.
Bailey filed a complaint with the NLRB and reached a settlement with Amazon on documents dated March 3, 2021. The settlement resolved part of the issue, but the NLRB still issued a determination that Amazon had broken federal labour laws at least four times. Specific violations included ordering employees not to organise “without first notifying [them],” threatening to discipline organisers, and “[interrogating] employees about their participation,” according to agency documents obtained by Motherboard.
The NLRB dismissed three other complaints against Amazon over the same matter, according to Motherboard. As a result of the settlement, Amazon will be required to place fliers notifying warehouse staff they would not be confronted or asked about protected activities.
Motherboard had previously reported Amazon neglected to prepare for pandemic conditions, despite having a large corporate security division designed to monitor everything from pandemic-type threats to worker conduct and the labour and environmental movements. At the same time, workers were faced with pressure to work even harder as Amazon deliveries surged due to lockdown orders imposed to limit the virus’s spread. Internal Amazon documents obtained by the site back claims by workers at the Queens facility that the company had violated New York paid sick leave law by terminating workers who failed to show up for their shifts, as well as Amazon policy by having some work 12-hour shifts. Amazon had also reportedly run low on supplies like hand sanitiser, sterilising wipes, disinfectant, and water for employees encountering “heat stress” in the company’s sweaty facilities.
“While we disagree with allegations made in the case, we are pleased to put this matter behind us,” Amazon spokesperson Leah Say told Motherboard. “The health and safety of our employees is our top priority and we are proud to provide inclusive environments, where employees can excel without fear of retaliation, intimidation or harassment.”
“Amazon fabricated false and unjust disciplinary measures to build bogus cases against workers leading the fight to be treated as more than grist in Amazon’s profit mill,” Amazonians United New York City, the group that organised the walkouts, told the site. “We thank the NLRB for putting in countless hours and validating what we already knew to be true. Ultimately, it is our solidarity that protects us and will win us a better world.”
Amazon, run by the world’s richest man, has long faced pushback from workers who say the company habitually disregards their health and safety in favour of profits, and the NLRB has ruled the company illegally retaliated against workers who led strikes in Chicago and another worker in Staten Island who protested outside an Amazon facility on his day off.
The company has failed to shut down a union drive at a warehouse in Alabama where workers will vote on forming a bargaining unit at the end of March, while employees at other facilities across the country are considering doing the same. U.S. president Joe Biden effectively endorsed Amazon unionisation efforts this month, issuing a clear warning to company brass that workers have a right to form a union without interference from management.