Amazon illegally fired two employees who advocated for better working conditions during the pandemic, the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found.
The online retailer last year terminated the employment of Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa after they publicly protested its environmental and labor policies.
The two former employees accused the company of enforcing policies in a discriminatory fashion and having vague rules that “chill and restrain” staff from exercising rights, according to their charge filed in October, seen by Reuters.
The board said on Monday that its regional director in Seattle will issue a complaint if the parties do not settle the case, according to the New York Times.
Cunningham and Costa had gained prominence for pushing the company to do more on the climate crisis and became some of the company’s most outspoken internal critics. About a year ago they were terminated after circulating a petition on Amazon’s pandemic safety protocols and worked to raise money for warehouse staff at risk of contracting Covid-19.
“I don’t regret standing up with my co-workers,” Costa said in a statement at the time of her termination. “This is about human lives, and the future of humanity. In this crisis, we must stand up for what we believe in, have hope, and demand from our corporations and employers a basic decency that’s been lacking in this crisis.”
The decision comes as Amazon faced a record number of complaints filed to the NLRB in 2020, a new report from NBC News showed. The NLRB said the number of filings accusing Amazon of interfering with workers’ right to organize had more than tripled during the pandemic.
NBC News spoke to more than two dozen Amazon warehouse workers who said their rights had been violated, nine of whom said they had been fired, disciplined or retaliated against for protected activity and three of whom filed NLRB complaints since the pandemic began. The NLRB said it may open up an investigation into the pattern, according to NBC, contrary to the board’s usual practice of regional enforcement.
Amazon meanwhile is awaiting the outcome of its Bessemer, Alabama, workers’ vote on whether to make their warehouse the company’s first unionized facility in the country and faces ongoing antitrust efforts from federal and state governments.
Amazon said in a statement it supports workers’ rights to criticize work conditions, but that doing so does not absolve staff of breaking lawful rules.
“We terminated these employees not for talking publicly about working conditions, safety, or sustainability, but rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies,” it said. Amazon on Monday did not specify what those polices were.
Cunningham and Costa did not immediately comment. Marc Perrone, international president of the UFCW union whose local unit helped file the charge, said in a statement: “Today is a reminder that Amazon will break the law to silence its own workers who speak out.”