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On the Clock is Motherboard’s reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.
Managers at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island illegally threatened employees with loss of benefits and withholding or reducing wages if they voted to unionize over a period of about a year prior to the union vote in April, which the union ultimately won, according to a new complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board.
“I think it’s historic,” Seth Goldstein, a pro bono attorney for the Amazon Labor Union, said regarding the NLRB complaint. “I think it’s going to reverse decades’ worth of anti-union decisions.”
Most of the alleged violations in the complaint have to do with what was said during so-called captive audience meetings, or when companies require employees engaged in union drives to sit through anti-union presentations or speeches, a common tactic by companies opposing unionization. In April, a top lawyer at the NLRB called on the board to ban such meetings, saying they “inherently involve an unlawful threat that employees will be disciplined or suffer other reprisals if they exercise their protected right not to listen to such speech.”
Goldstein sees this complaint against Amazon as proof the NLRB is moving ahead with that recommendation. “The historic nature of it is that it is actually a complaint that’s issued. The board is actually moving on this.”
The complaint alleges paid anti-union consultants engaged in union-busting tactics ranging from compulsory anti-union meetings, promising employees better pay and benefits if they voted against the union, threatening employees with worse pay and benefits or outright termination if they voted for the union, and addressing specific issues employees have if they promised to vote against the union, among others. The meetings, where Amazon representatives made these statements, were held between November 2021 and March 2022.
The NLRB also says Amazon distributed messages via text and its internal messaging app “Amazon A to Z” that also threatened employees with a loss of benefits and withheld wages. The company also banned workers from posting a call for Juneteenth to be recognized as an official holiday on Amazon’s internal “Voice of Associates” digital bulletin board, and revoked a worker’s ability to post on the board after they made the call for the day to be recognized as a holiday.
This is not the first time the NLRB has accused Amazon of engaging in union-busting tactics and audio of one of the captive audience meetings was previously leaked to Motherboard, in which Amazon representatives referred workers to anti-union websites, disparaged the Amazon Labor Union, and misled employees about unions are.
The NLRB has asked Amazon to post a notice about workers’ union rights under the National Labor Relations Act in all of its Staten Island facilities, including all bathrooms and individual bathroom stalls, and send the same message to all employees via text message, email, social media, and the internal Voice of Associates board. The labor board is also asking Amazon to read the notice aloud in front of all employees at JFK8 and schedule mandatory training sessions for all supervisors, managers, and anti-union consultants on workers’ union rights, and to submit an attendance list to the board.
Amazon will now have the opportunity to settle with the NLRB. If a settlement is not reached, the case will go to trial before an administrative judge. Amazon did not immediately respond to a Motherboard request for comment.
Goldstein said he hoped the case goes to trial, likely in September, so there is a public hearing. “The world is going to understand why captive audience meetings are inherently coercive.”
Update: After publication, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel provided the following statement: “Our focus remains on working directly with our team to make Amazon a great place to work. The allegations in NLRB complaint are without merit, and we look forward to showing that through this process.”