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Amazon CEO accused of trampling labor laws with anti-union comments

Surely staff organizing is Bias for Action and Think Big on those blasted leadership principles?

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has been accused of breaking US labor laws by spouting anti-union comments in the media.

The online shopping giant faces mounting efforts by warehouse workers to organize and collectively bargain with bosses. The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) won its first election against the corporation in April, making the JFK8 fulfillment center on Staten Island the first Amazon warehouse to unionize.

Shortly after ALU's victory, Jassy conducted interviews with CNBC and Bloomberg claiming workers were "better off" not joining a union. Now the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is pulling up the chief exec on those comments, which could be interpreted as interfering with people's right to organize – or even intimidation – which would break labor laws.

Officials at the NLRB filed their complaint on Wednesday, the Washington Post – owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – reported this week.

"These allegations are completely without merit, and the comments in question are clearly protected by express language of the National Labor Relations Act and decades of NLRB precedent," Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, told The Register Thursday.

"The comments lawfully explain Amazon's views on unionization and the way it could affect the ability of our employees to deal directly with their managers, and they began with a clear recognition of our employees' right to organize and in no way contained threats of reprisal.

"We believe our employees, their families, and other stakeholders benefit from a full understanding of the facts on important topics like this. We're committed to ensuring everyone understands our perspective and to explaining it respectfully and transparently."

Sassy Jassy

When Andrew Sorkin interviewed Jassy for Squawk Box, a business and politics program on CNBC, asking him about Amazon warehouse unions, the Amazon big cheese said: "Of course, it's employees' choice whether or not they want to join a union. We happen to think they're better off not doing so for a couple of reasons at least."

"You know, first, at a place like Amazon that empowers employees, if they see something they can do better for customers or for themselves, they can go meet in a room, decide how and change it. That type of empowerment doesn't happen when you have unions," Jassy suggested.

"It's much more bureaucratic, it's much slower. I also think people are better off having direct connections with their managers. You know, you think about work differently. You have relationships that are different. We get to hear from a lot of people as opposed to it all being filtered through one voice," he continued.

The CEO made similar comments on stage at the Bloomberg Tech Summit weeks later. He said "it's up to Amazon workers whether to join a union," which is true, but added "they're better off without a union," since it would, in his mind, make it easier to improve working conditions more quickly.

The case, if not settled beforehand, will be heard by US Dept of Labor's Administrative Law Judges on February 7, an NLRB spokesperson told us. The board wants Amazon to remind its staff of their unionization rights following Jassy's appearances in the media.

The ALU has struggled to unionize more warehouses since its initial victory. Workers in Albany, New York, at the ALB1 fulfillment center, voted against joining the group in October. A petition filed with the NLRB to unionize a facility in Moreno Valley, California, at a facility called ONT8, was withdrawn by the union group this week. ALU President Chris Smalls told CNN he planned to refile the petition in the next few weeks. ®

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