Widespread changes to employment law or common practice often come after renowned companies experience their own run-ins with labor disputes. The last mass labor revolution saw the abolishment of child labor and the advent of mass-produced products. Though today’s labor disputes may not be as iconic as those of the early 20th century, the rights of employees should always be taken seriously. Online shopping supergiant Amazon is learning this the hard way nowadays with multiple high-profile labor claims nipping at their heels. Could this be the start of nationwide changes to warehouse and shipping employment practices?
Illegal Employment Terminations Leave Amazon on the Back Foot
As one of the largest retailers in the world, Amazon ships and houses products globally to accommodate demand, especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when online shopping became even more essential. As far back as 2018, two female employees – Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa – working out of the company’s Seattle headquarters began criticizing the corporation for their immense carbon footprint, calling for changes to climate policy. The duo also scrutinized the work environment for warehouse workers across the country. They are far from the only employees to have pushed Amazon’s top brass to make changes. However, after public criticism, Cunningham and Costa were terminated citing the two were “repeatedly violating internal policies.” For Cunningham and Costa, the termination was too much to be a coincidence. They were, after all, some of their employer’s most vocal and public critics for two years.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was brought in to assess the legality of their termination which the two women claimed as retaliation. In April 2021, the Board officially found that the termination of their employment at Amazon was, indeed, retaliatory, and therefore illegal.
NLRB Upholds Warehouse Worker Rights
The working environment in Amazon warehouses has been under scrutiny for years. Employee complaints have only increased with the rise of the pandemic. Some of the most common complaints made to the NLRB include poor treatment, unrealistic quotas, and low pay. In addition, workers became increasingly concerned about the possible spread of COVID-19 as Amazon allegedly offered little to no accommodations. To combat this growing problem, Jonathan Bailey became one of the many leading organizers to order a walkout in protest of Amazon’s employment conditions as an exercise in protected labor rights. The walkout took place at the Queens, NY warehouse.
The day after the walkout, an Amazon manager allegedly accosted Bailey. Bailey claims the manager interrogated him about the organization of the protest, and accused of him of harassment. Bailey stated, “…it became very clear they were trying to intimidate me.”
A week later, Bailey received a formal write-up for harassment. Management did not inform him of any details about his supposed harassing actions or alleged victim. Bailey filed a complaint with the NLRB claiming Amazon took retaliatory action against him for exercising his protected rights. The NLRB agreed, and a year later, Amazon settled the case.
New Amazon Warehouse Labor Unions May Be on the Horizon
Not the least of the Amazon employment news is the high-profile vote on unionization that took place in Alabama. According to NBC News and the NLRB, complaints highlighting Amazon’s alleged interference in employee organization and unionization have more than tripled since February 2020.
After more than a year of intensified worker resentment, the warehouse employees of Bessemer, AL held a historic vote determining if they should unionize to demand better working conditions and pay. In the end, the vote to unionize did not pass. However, other locations remain eager to advance their labor rights. Despite the failure of the vote, this landmark conversation could pave the way for future labor reform within Amazon.
Civil and Employment Rights Advocates in the Inland Empire and Beyond
Change seems to be in the air for Amazon and its employment practices. With so much pressure mounting, it’s no wonder all eyes are on these cases. However, not all wronged employees have a national platform to make their claims against unscrupulous business practices. That’s why dedicated, strong legal representation can be so vital to ensuring a worker’s rights are upheld. The Racial & Economic Justice attorneys at McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP, are hard at work fighting for the civil and employment rights of victims of discriminatory practices.
If your workplace has unjustly or illegally penalized you, let us be your advocates. Contact us today or call (909) 345-8110.