In a complaint filed on Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accused Amazon of illegally surveilling, interrogating and threatening unionizing employees at its warehouse in Staten Island, New York.
The NLRB found that a company representative had made a racist remark to union organizers, calling them “thugs” who were destined to fail. According to the complaint, security guards repeatedly prohibited organizers from distributing union pamphlets and the company “solicited grievances from employees with an express promise to remedy them if they rejected the Union as their bargaining representative.”
To remediate these problems, the NLRB said, the company will have to train managers and consultants on workers’ rights to form a union. Management will also have to instruct workers about their rights with an NLRB representative present.
“We just hope that Amazon is held accountable,” Amazon Labor Union leader Christian Smalls said. “We hope that other union-busters as well learn their lesson and that workers are encouraged to speak up.”
The Staten Island warehouse has been in the midst of a union campaign for nearly a year, facing roadblocks along the way. The company has also displayed anti-union messages and sent emails to their employees warning them of negative consequences if they sign a union card.
Last week, the NLRB said that the workers have enough signatures for a union election after the Amazon Labor Union filed the petition in December.
The company has disputed the NLRB’s accusations and claims that they are “false.” However, the company has faced numerous labor complaints over the years from workers like Jonathan Bailey, who said in 2021 that the company has harassed him for a year, retaliating against him for organizing fellow workers.
The NLRB ultimately found that the company illegally threatened and interrogated Bailey, and the case was settled before going to trial.
It’s common for union-busting companies to break the law, as punishments for illegal union-busting tactics are often mild; as of 2019, U.S. employers were breaking the law in about 42 percent of all union election campaigns. For a trillion-dollar company like Amazon, punishments for breaking labor laws are a slap on the wrist at best.
Last year, Amazon also faced discipline from federal officials when the labor board found that the company illegally interfered with the union election in Bessemer, Alabama – a union drive that gained national attention and inspired over 1,000 Amazon workers across the country to contact the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) about unionization.
The company had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, hiring union-busting consultants and police to quash the union drive. The company employed numerous anti-union tactics, but the NLRB took particular issue with a mailbox that Amazon installed on warehouse grounds with the likely intention of surveilling employees casting their ballots. The mailbox was plastered with anti-union slogans, and there were multiple cameras installed around it.
Ultimately, the NLRB ordered a second election for Bessemer employees beginning this week.
Even as Amazon is facing a second union vote, however, the company has yet to remove the mailbox on warehouse grounds. Although the mailbox has been moved further away, workers say that it is still surveilled by cameras and patrolled.
“The mailbox’s continued existence on Amazon’s property stands as a stark physical memorial of a tainted election,” said Jennifer Bates, a Bessemer worker, at a RWDSU press conference.
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