Amazon Agrees to Pay Back Wages to Two Employees Who Claimed They Were Illegally Fired for Organising

Amazon Agrees to Pay Back Wages to Two Employees Who Claimed They Were Illegally Fired for Organising
Photo: Sean Gallup / Staff, Getty Images

As part of a settlement agreement, Amazon will be compelled to pay an unspecified amount in back wages to two former workers who claimed they were unfairly fired from the company in retaliation for workplace activism.

The former employees in question, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, filed an NLRB complaint last October alleging that Amazon had violated federal labour law by firing them “based on discriminatory enforcement of its non-solicitation and communication policies,” which prevent employees from discussing Amazon’s business practices without pre-approval from a manager. As part of the settlement, issued at a virtual hearing on Wednesday by NLRB Administrative Law Judge John Giannopoulos, Amazon will also have to “post a notice to all of its tech and warehouse workers nationwide that Amazon can’t fire workers for organising and exercising their rights,” Cunningham and Costa said in a statement.

“Tech workers standing up together have immense power to move the biggest corporations in the world,” they wrote. “Everything we love is threatened by climate chaos. Workers at every company need to be standing up for each other and the world, together. Now is the time to be our best, bravest selves.”

Prior to their termination in April 2020, Cunningham and Costa, both user experience designers who had worked at the company’s Seattle headquarters for 15 years, had been openly critical of Amazon’s environmental footprint. Eventually, as an extension of their convictions, they formed a workplace advocacy group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice in 2018 so that employees could leverage their collective power to call upon the company to make changes to its climate policies. Much to Amazon’s dismay, the group became massively popular, amassing more than 8,700 employee members and compelling more than 1,500 to walk off the job as part of coordinated protests against Amazon’s climate policies.

As the pandemic bore down on the U.S., Cunningham and Costa later channeled their activism into efforts for workers’ rights, specifically concerned with Amazon’s subpar treatment of the warehouse workers risking their lives to keep the company’s crowded fulfillment centres running.

By agreeing to the settlement, Amazon staves off the possibility of a protracted and very public trial — an outcome that was particularly likely given the level of national scrutiny the terminations had already received. Nine Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Cory Booker of New Jersey, had called upon Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to respond to the firings last May, and Tim Bray, a former vice president at Amazon, had resigned in protest, saying that continuing at his post would have meant “signing off on actions I despised.”