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Judge tells Amazon: Stop retaliating against employees

Pioneer Amazon union gets a boost, staffer still get the sack

A federal judge has told Amazon to stop firing employees for engaging in protected activity at JFK8, the Staten Island distribution center that was the company's first - and so far only - to unionize. 

It's a needed victory for the young Amazon Labor Union (ALU), but not a complete one: The judge in the case granted part of the National Labor Relations Board's petition, but denied part of the Board's request.

Under the terms of the judge's order [PDF], Amazon must cease and desist from discharging employees engaging in protected activities, as well as not interfering with employees in the exercise of their rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which defines protected actions.

In this case, the protected action was a protest that took place in 2020 against a lack of COVID-19 safety protocols at JFK8. During a protest, an employee on the picket line got into an argument with another employee, which Amazon used to justify the picketing employee's firing. 

This case bears similarities to the firing of ALU president Christian Smalls, but involves a different employee. 

The judge in the case called Amazon's justification for the firing pretextual (legal speak for maybe not totally true) and concluded that "record evidence before the Court amply supports [the NLRB's] position that [the employee] was engaged in protected activity," and "that [the employee's] protected conduct was a motivating factor in his discharge." 

In addition to Amazon being told in no uncertain terms to stop firing union employees for engaging in protected activity, the judge said the decision had to be posted publicly and distributed electronically, and that mandatory meetings would be required in which Amazon would read the decision in full to all staff at JFK8.

"The Judge's order in this case recognizes Amazon's unlawful conduct and provides the full force of a federal court injunction to prohibit Amazon from further discharging employees for engaging in protected concerted activity," said NLRB Region 29 Director Teresa Poor. 

What the NLRB failed to get, however, was a reinstatement order for the fired employee, which the judge said wasn't warranted based on the NLRB's argument.

According to the decision, the NLRB's argument was that failing to rehire the terminated employee would result in a weakening of the ALU's ability to organize. There wasn't any evidence presented to indicate that, the judge said, adding that the employee "was terminated approximately one year before the ALU was formed." Per the judge, that means this case is distinguishable from similar ones in which reinstatement would be justified. 

JFK8 employees voted to join the ALU in April 2022, not long after the ALU petitioned the NLRB for the right to hold a union election. Another vote to organize a second Staten Island warehouse in May of this year failed to pass, which led the NLRB to file another complaint against Amazon in September alleging unfair treatment of union organizers. The NLRB alleges the treatment may have affected the vote, and the case is still ongoing. 

Amazon employees at another warehouse in Albany, New York, also voted against unionizing in October, leaving the ALU just one for five in its attempts to unionize Amazon distribution centers. ®

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