Amazon to defend firing of employees who criticized conditions



Amazon will face US labor regulators in a Tuesday hearing over its decision last year to fire two employees who criticized the e-tailing giant’s labor and climate policies.

Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa were fired from their jobs as tech designers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters after they spoke out about working conditions at Amazon’s warehouses during the pandemic, their complaint alleges.

Cunningham and Costa were also environmental activists, who were critical of Amazon’s climate policies. 

They filed a complaint last year with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Amazon retaliated against them for speaking out about the company’s climate and labor practices — and the government agency in April found merit in their complaint.

At the time, Amazon said it disagreed with agency’s decision to move forward with the case. 

“We disagree with these preliminary findings,” the e-commerce giant said in a statement. “We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful. We terminated these employees not for the reasons cited in the preliminary finding, but because they repeatedly violated internal policies.”

Union supporters protesting Amazon, holding signs.
Amazon is facing a growing labor movement to unionize its workers.
AFP via Getty Images

Amazon can still settle the case with Cunningham and Costa.

Their case is just one among a growing number of complaints filed with the NLRB against Amazon from workers who say they were fired because they spoke out against the online giant.

The agency is considering consolidating these cases into a national investigation, according to NBC News, which tallied nearly 40 complaints filed with the agency against Amazon from February 2020 through March 2021.

The agency also maintains that Amazon violated labor law in a high profile unionization effort this year in Bessemer, Ala. A NLRB hearing officer said in an August report that Amazon  “engaged in objectionable conduct” and “interfered” with the “conditions necessary to conduct a fair election.” 

An Amazon protestor standing on a car roof holding a sign.
The NLRB is considering consolidating the complaints against Amazon into one national investigation, according to a report.
AFP via Getty Images

Amazon employees voted not to form a union at the Bessemer facility this spring, but The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union accused Amazon of interfering with the vote. 

The NLRB’s regional director will now review the evidence and could order a do-over of the election if the hearing officer’s recommendation is adopted.

Meanwhile, Amazon is coming under fire at a separate hearing today before the House Judiciary Committee, Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee, which will hear from a UPS Teamster driver, who will raise antitrust concerns about Amazon’s ability to lower the pay of truck drivers and affect their working conditions with its third party contracts with UPS, DHL and other delivery services, according to a press release from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.


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