Tech

US labor board says Amazon illegally fired union organizer in New York

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has determined that Amazon illegally fired former worker Daequan Smith for trying to unionize its warehouses in Staten Island, New York. Smith, who was one of the organizers for the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), was fired in October 2021. The group filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the NLRB after his dismissal, accusing the company of illegal retaliatory firing over Smith’s outspoken support for unionization. Now, according to Bloomberg, the board has found merit in the group’s allegations and plans to issue a formal complaint against the e-commerce giant if the case doesn’t settle. 

The Amazon Labor Union is made of up of former and current company workers and is an independent group not connected with major national unions. While the group failed to unionize Amazon’s fulfillment centers in Staten Island last year, it refiled an application with the NLRB in December — a hearing is scheduled for that request next month. 

Smith wasn’t the only ALU organizer that Amazon had fired. ALU president Chris Smalls also lost his job after he held a walkout at Amazon’s JFK8 facility over the e-commerce giant’s handling of COVID-19 safety at the warehouse in 2020. Amazon explained back then that Smalls “received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines.”

The company has been adamantly anti-union and had once told Engadget in a statement that it doesn’t “think unions are the best answer for [its] employees.” It added: “Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes — quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle.” After reaching a deal with the NLRB in December, though, Amazon agreed to informs workers that they have the legal right to join, form or assist with a union through notices posted in workplaces, as well as on its mobile app and internal website.

As Bloomberg explains, NLRB brings complaints to agency judges if it finds merit in claims made by workers. The board’s top prosecutor, Jennifer Abruzzo, one said she will “aggressively” seek court injunctions to get illegally fired employees back to work. ALU vice president Derrick Palmer, whom Amazon had disciplined for joining Smalls’ COVID-19 protest, said Smith being reinstated would be a huge support for the group: “It would be monumental for him to go back to the same building that he was terminated from and speak his truth and let workers know that it’s OK to speak out.”

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