Amazon boss receives tap on wrist for statements breaking labor laws

Jass sass gets a pass

A US National Labor Relations Board judge has decided that public remarks made by Amazon CEO Andy Jassy violated federal labor laws.

The decision, handed down yesterday, concluded Jassy's comments made to CNBC, Bloomberg TV, and at the New York Times DealBook conference breached National Labor Relations Act provisions on interfering with employee rights to organize.

The complaint, filed in 2022, essentially boils down to whether statements by Jassy that employees are better off not joining a union amount to labor interference or intimidation. While NLRB administrative law judge Brian Gee believes some of what Jassy said meets that threshold, not all of his statements turned out to be illegal. 

In several cases, for example, Jassy said he believed employees were better off having direct relationships with their managers, which he said becomes more difficult under a union.

"I think it's nice to be able to have a direct relationship with your manager," Jassy said at NYT DealBook. "We like to hear from all our employees as opposed to having it filtered through one or two voices."

Those statements, Gee decided, were perfectly permissible, because all they do is describe a state of affairs. Less OK were comments about how joining a union would disempower employees and make it harder to get work done quickly.

"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 [to] change it and change it," Jassy said on CNBC's Squawk Box. "That type of empowerment doesn't happen when you have unions. It's much more bureaucratic, it's much slower."

While it's one thing to note how management envisions a union changing the workplace, those sorts of Jassy gems go "far beyond simply noting one of the changes," Gee said in his decision. They go so far, Gee said, as to amount "to unprotected threats."

Because he broke labor laws, Jassy and the company are facing … pretty much nothing. Gee recommends that Amazon be forced to cease and desist from making labor-act violating statements – which critics would say is akin to throwing another bucket of water on a forest fire – and wants Amazon to notify all employees of their rights under US labor law. No fine was leveled, nor was any other form of penalty imposed.

Amazon disagrees with the ruling. 

"We strongly disagree that any part of these comments were inappropriate and intend to appeal," Amazon spokesperson Mary Kate Paradis told The Register. "The decision reflects poorly on the state of free speech rights today, and we remain optimistic that we will be able to continue to engage in a reasonable discussion on these issues where all perspectives have an opportunity to be heard."

The NLRB, which will now have to sign off on Gee's proposed order, didn't respond to questions for this story. ®

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