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Amazon threatened warehouse workers organizing amid COVID-19 pandemic, says US labor board complaint

Amazon threatened warehouse workers organizing amid COVID-19 pandemic, says US labor board complaint


The investigation found that Amazon managers may have violated US labor law on four accounts

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found merit to the claim that Amazon threatened and retaliated against workers protesting the company’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an NLRB complaint obtained by Motherboard. The case, which centers on a warehouse in Queens, New York, was settled before it went to trial.

The NLRB investigation found that warehouse managers may have violated US labor law on four accounts, Motherboard reports. During the pandemic, they allegedly instructed employees not to organize without first notifying them, interrogated workers about the walkout, and threatened to discipline those who spoke to colleagues about the protests.

The complaint reportedly said that Amazon illegally interrogated and disciplined Jonathan Bailey, one of the lead walkout organizers. He coordinated a protest after a colleague tested positive for COVID-19 — the first time this had happened at an Amazon facility in the United States.

The day after the walkout, a regional manager interrogated Bailey for an hour and a half, telling him his behavior might constitute harassment, Motherboard reports. He also demanded Bailey alert him in advance of any future protests. A week later, Bailey was written up for harassment.

“Amazon did its best to keep everybody working while simultaneously crushing our effort to fight back,” Bailey told Motherboard.

He’s not alone in this assessment. In February, New York Attorney General Letitia James sued the company for failing to provide adequate safety measures and retaliating against workers who raised concerns. The case is focused on the Queens warehouse as well as a facility on Staten Island.

The NLRB has separately found merit to allegations of retaliation from warehouse workers in Chicago, according to The Intercept. Employees say they were retaliated against in the wake of protests regarding how the company handled the COVID-19 crisis. The US labor board is reportedly in the process of negotiating a settlement.

The news comes amid a historic union vote at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Workers began voting by mail on February 8th. Votes will be counted on March 30th. If the effort is successful, it’ll be the first Amazon union in the US.

Amazon is disputing the results of the NLRB investigation. “While we disagree with allegations made in the case, we are pleased to put this matter behind us,” said spokesperson Leah Seay, in a statement emailed to The Verge. “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.”