Amazon workers in the US now face fewer hurdles to organise

Amazon is now required to inform past and current workers of their rights and not interfere with labour organising on company property after hours, according to a settlement the firm reached with the US National Labor Relations Board.

Amazon has faced dozens of labour complaints since the pandemic began [File: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg] Inc. workers across the country now face fewer hurdles to organize against their employer under a settlement the company reached with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board.

The agreement requires Amazon to inform past and current workers of their rights and ensures that it can’t interfere with labor organizing on company property after hours. The settlement was finalized on Wednesday, which happened to coincide with a union-organizing effort in New York City that same day.

The settlement is “very powerful” because it specifically prohibits practices Amazon has used to make it more difficult for workers to organize, including limiting their time on company property when they aren’t working, said Janice Fine, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University. Organizing on work sites when employees are gathered together with people they know and trust can be more galvanizing than out-of-town activists knocking on people’s doors at home, she said.

“It’s a recognition of all the nefarious ways Amazon violated the National Labor Relations Act,” Fine said. “I just wonder if the labor board will be monitoring it and if they have people monitoring on site.”

Labor organization and worker activity is on the rise in Amazon facilities across the country. On Wednesday, a group of workers and organizers on Staten Island refiled a union petition with the NLRB after failing to meet the signature threshold in the fall. In Chicago, workers from two warehouses walked out following a pay dispute, TechCrunch reported.

“This settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action,” NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in a statement.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The New York Times first reported on the settlement Thursday.

The NLRB encourages companies to settle disputes with workers and when that doesn’t happen, brings charges before administrative law judges. Their rulings can then be appealed to the NLRB’s presidentially appointed members in Washington and from there, to federal court.

Tech industry workers in recent years have become more vocal about their employers’ positions on such issues as immigration and climate change. In September, Google parent Alphabet Inc. settled a dispute with a software engineer the labor board alleged was fired for workplace activism.

Amazon has faced dozens of labor complaints since the pandemic began. Amazon privately settled one in September with two web designers who the U.S. labor board alleged were fired for workplace activism. The workers, who were dismissed in 2020 after advocating for Amazon to do more to fight climate change, said the settlement required Amazon to pay them back wages. Amazon denied wrongdoing.

There have been few consequences for Amazon to push the limits of U.S. labor laws. It has been able to resolve most previous complaints by agreeing to post signs in employee break rooms informing workers of their rights or settling privately with their accusers. The latest settlement more expansive than past agreements but still primarily entails Amazon notifying workers of their existing rights.

Source: Bloomberg