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Amazon Quelled Workers’ Rights by Forcing Employees Into NDAs, Complaint Alleges

The allegation is made in a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of a former employee.

Amazon workers unloading boxes from a truck in Manhattan on July 21, 2023 in New York City.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed a complaint on behalf of a former Amazon worker alleging that the company’s nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) are overly broad and restrict workers’ rights.

In its filing against the company, the NLRB notes that Amazon required employees from its drone project to sign NDAs that would limit the ability of workers to openly discuss with one another aspects of their work, effectively making it impossible to organize if they chose to do so.

Mary Kate Paradis, a spokesperson for Amazon, defended the NDA practices by claiming it’s similar to other “common” actions other companies regularly take.

“In this instance, the NLRB is taking one line of our agreement out of context and we look forward to showing that through the legal process,” Paradis said to The Seattle Times.

Seth Goldstein, a lawyer who is representing a former employee who was affected by the NDA, disagrees.

“You can’t talk about business operations, you can’t talk about customers, anything that has to do … with the company and its internal workings,” he said. “It’s basically ‘you can’t talk about work.'”

Goldstein represents former Amazon drone worker Cheddi Skeete. Skeete, who is Black, also sued the company in January alleging he faced racial discrimination and retaliation from the company for bringing up safety concerns. Skeete said he understands the need for NDAs when it comes to proprietary reasons, but added that “an employee should be able to freely speak on things” when it affects workers’ rights.

The NDA itself requires employees to “not acquire, use, publish, disclose, or communicate any Confidential Information except as required in connection with Employee’s work without the prior written approval of an authorized officer of Amazon.” “Confidential Information” includes any information “not otherwise generally known to the public,” such as the company’s “business, projects, products, customers, suppliers, inventions, or trade secrets,” as well as “published and unpublished know-how … Amazon pricing policies … and future plans relating to any aspect of Amazon’s present or anticipated business.”

The language of the NDA doesn’t just extend to limiting conversations with people outside the company, but within it as well, the complaint alleges, making it difficult for workers to discuss aspects of their job that may otherwise compel them to organize and demand better working conditions.

The NDA “was overbroad” and “didn’t allow [Skeete] to talk about anything at the company,” Goldstein said.

“If you can’t talk about anything at work, it becomes very difficult to organize and engage in collective action, or speak out about anything,” he added.

According to Goldstein, the NDA applies to “almost a million” workers at the company, at all of its U.S. locations. Goldstein is confident he and his client will succeed, due to recent actions by NLRB, including deciding that overly broad noncompete agreements violate workers’ rights, too.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for July next year.

The NLRB has accused Amazon of unfair labor practices in the past, including in 2022, when the federal agency said there was “merit” to workers’ complaints about the company requiring workers to attend anti-union meetings at a Staten Island facility where labor organizers won the right to organize later that year. In that same filing, the NLRB also found merit to complaints from the workers who formed the Amazon Labor Union, which accused the company of telling workers they would withhold benefits if they voted to organize.

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