Amazon settles with employees who said they were fired for activism

Environmentalists protest outside Amazon’s shareholders’ meeting

Paayal Zaveri | CNBC

Amazon has reached an agreement with two former employees who the National Labor Relations Board alleged were illegally fired for publicly speaking about the company’s carbon footprint and labor policy.

The terms of the settlement between Amazon and two employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, were not immediately disclosed. The settlement was announced by NLRB Administrative Judge John Giannopoulos at a virtual hearing at which Giannopoulos was asked to examine the NLRB’s complaint.

NLRB spokeswoman Kayla Blado confirmed that a private settlement had been reached between the parties. Amazon declined to comment.

James McGuinness, attorney for the Seattle Chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, who filed the NLRB complaint on behalf of Cunningham and Costa, was not immediately available for comment.

Earlier this year, the NLRB found that Amazon had illegally fired Cunningham and Costa when it fired them in April 2020. Amazon previously said it disagreed with the NLRB’s findings, claiming it fired Costa and Cunningham for “repeated violations of internal guidelines”.

In their complaint to the NLRB last October, Costa and Cunningham alleged that Amazon violated federal labor law by firing them “for discriminatory enforcement of their solicitation and communication policies.”

By completing a settlement, Amazon avoids a potentially lengthy process of witnessing and analyzing the treatment of employees. If the NLRB had sided with the employees, Amazon could have been forced, among other things, to reinstate Cunningham and Costa or to grant them back wages.

Cunningham and Costa worked as user experience designers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters for 15 years. In 2018, they became vocal critics of Amazon’s climate policy and formed an employee council calling on the company to reduce its impact on climate change. The group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, won the support of more than 8,700 employees and drove more than 1,500 employees to resign in protest at Amazon’s climate policy.

During the pandemic, Cunningham and Costa raised concerns about Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers. Both shared a petition from warehouse workers campaigning for more coronavirus protection, and their staff council was planning an internal event where Amazon technicians and warehouse workers could discuss workplace conditions.

Amazon is facing increasing scrutiny by employees and outside groups over its work practices. Warehouse and delivery workers have publicly voiced their concerns about the safety of frontline workers during the pandemic. At the same time, an increasing number of employees have filed complaints with the NLRB, many of whom allege unfair labor practices.

The sacking of Cunningham and Costa last April sparked an immediate backlash. Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., And Vice President Kamala Harris, then a California Senator, joined other lawmakers in asking Amazon for more information about their firing.

Tim Bray, a prominent engineer and former vice president at Amazon, resigned in protest last May. Bray said he “snapped” after learning of the layoffs, adding that staying with the company was like “signing actions I despised”.

SEE: California Governor Newsom signs law to strengthen the protection of warehouse workers


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