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Settlement forces Amazon to tell workers they can’t be fired for organizing

Rally of tech workers holding signs that say,
Enlarge / Tech workers show support for Maren Costa (left) and Emily Cunningham (right) on Sept 16, 2021.

Amazon has agreed to a settlement with two employees who alleged that they were illegally fired for speaking out about warehouse working conditions during the pandemic.

“Amazon will be required to pay us our lost wages and post a notice to all of its tech and warehouse workers nationwide that Amazon can’t fire workers for organizing and exercising their rights,” the fired workers, Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, said in a statement yesterday. “It’s also not lost on us that we are two women who were targeted for firing. Inequality, racism, and sexism are at the heart of both the climate crisis and the pandemic.”

Costa and Cunningham were tech workers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters and were fired in April 2020. “Both were active in an internal employee group advocating for climate issues and had circulated a petition inside the company calling on Amazon to expand benefits and pay for employees in warehouses,” we noted in an article at the time.

In April of this year, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Amazon acted illegally and in retaliation when it fired them. NLRB “staff told Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Costa that it would accuse Amazon of unfair labor practices if the company did not settle the case,” The New York Times wrote.

The NLRB scheduled a hearing for Tuesday of this week. NLRB Administrative Law Judge John Giannopoulos reportedly announced the settlement at Wednesday’s hearing. Amazon also confirmed the settlement to news organizations, saying, “We have reached a mutual agreement that resolves the legal issues in this case and welcome the resolution of this matter.”

We asked Amazon for details on the settlement but the company didn’t provide us with any information beyond its statement.

In a separate case, an NLRB attorney and hearing officer found in August that Amazon interfered with a union-certification vote at a fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama. The NLRB could order a new vote, and Amazon said it would appeal.

Amazon avoids lengthy trial

“By reaching a settlement, Amazon avoids what could have been a potentially lengthy trial, complete with witnesses and a dissection of its treatment of employees,” according to CNBC. “Had the NLRB sided with the employees, Amazon could have been forced to rehire Cunningham and Costa or award them back pay, among other remedies.” Cunningham and Costa worked at Amazon for 15 years as user experience designers, CNBC wrote.

The NLRB said that Amazon and the former employees “reached a non-board settlement, a private agreement between parties in which terms were not disclosed,” according to Reuters. “The NLRB regional director, however, is required to review and approve the settlement agreement before allowing the charges to be withdrawn.” The docket now lists the case as “closed,” but an NLRB told Ars that the regional director is still reviewing the settlement.

Amazon previously disputed the NLRB’s preliminary findings, saying in April 2021 that “we support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful. We terminated these employees not for the reasons cited in the preliminary finding, but because they repeatedly violated internal policies.”

“Tech workers… have immense power”

Costa and Cunningham have continued to push Amazon to adopt more climate-friendly policies.

“Tech workers standing up together have immense power to move the biggest corporations in the world,” they said in their statement about the settlement. “Everything we love is threatened by climate chaos. Workers at every company need to be standing up for each other and the world, together.” They called the settlement with Amazon “a win for protecting workers rights, and [it] shows that we were right to stand up for each other, for justice, and for our world.”

We asked Costa and Cunningham for more details on the settlement, including the payment of lost wages and the notice that Amazon is required to post to its tech and warehouse workers. We’ll update this article if we get a response.

Costa and Cunningham have had plenty of support from Amazon workers since they began speaking out in 2018 about Amazon’s effect on the climate. The Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group that they helped form “gained the support of more than 8,700 employees and propelled more than 1,500 employees to walk out in protest of Amazon’s climate policies,” CNBC noted. In May 2020, Amazon VP Tim Bray resigned in protest of Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers and the firing of employees, including Costa and Cunningham.

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