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NYC judge demands Amazon stop firing workers for organizing

Eastern District of New York filed cease and desist against company last week

A New York City court order could provide a big boost to union organizers at Amazon warehouses (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Like hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the tech industry, Amazon workers face an uncertain future, with layoffs, hiring freezes and union activity all hitting the company at once.

A cease-and-desist order is the latest development in the saga. On Friday, District Judge Diane Gujarati filed a court order with the Eastern District of New York calling on Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) to stop firing warehouse workers involved in union organizing.

In the filing, Gujarati demanded that the e-commerce giant cease and desist from “discharging employees because they engaged in protected concerted activity” and “in any like or related manner interfering with, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed to them by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.”

Those rights include freedom from interference, restraint or coercion from employers when seeking to unionize.

The Eastern District’s order is the culmination of a yearslong effort to reform Amazon’s termination policies after the firing of Gerald Bryson, a former warehouse employee whom the National Labor Relations Board in April demanded be reinstated. Amazon fired Bryson in December 2020 after viewing a video in which he exchanged insults with another employee, behavior the company deemed to be bullying.

Gujarati in Friday’s order denied the NLRB’s injunction to reinstate Bryson, but she did state that there is “reasonable cause to believe that an unfair labor practice had been committed” regarding his termination.

Bryson had worked alongside Chris Smalls, another former Amazon worker and president of the Amazon Labor Union, at Amazon’s JFK-8 fulfillment center on Staten Island. The two helped lead several protests against the company’s COVID-19 safety policies. Since then, Smalls and the ALU have been a fixture in mainstream news, gaining nationwide attention for their successful unionization of JFK-8, the first facility in Amazon’s history to vote in favor of organizing.

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But the ALU is still wary of Amazon’s union-busting tactics, which have been deployed successfully at other facilities around the country. One, it argues, is the wrongful termination of union organizers, which makes last week’s cease-and-desist order a big deal.

“This is of huge significance,” said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer for the ALU. “This is a national cease-and-desist order. That means that wherever in the country they violate it, theoretically the National Labor Relations Board can immediately seek a contempt of court order. A federal judge is not happy when a party violates their rule — there can be sanctions of all types.”

When a second Amazon warehouse, ALB-1 in Albany, New York, attempted to follow JFK-8’s lead, that effort failed. But union organizers accused Amazon of what they considered retaliatory conduct, arguing that the company used intimidation to discourage workers from voting. 

Goldstein also said the company has continued the use of such tactics even after the court order was filed Friday.

“Within 24 hours of the order, one of our union organizers, Connor Spence, was disciplined for violating Amazon’s no-access policy, which is unlawful to begin with,” Goldstein said. “They’re continuing to violate the law. They don’t abide by anything.”

Spence, who works as a picker at JFK-8, had previously been suspended for refusing to work after a fire broke out at the facility.

Amazon did not immediately respond to Modern Shipper’s request for comment.

Click for more Modern Shipper articles by Jack Daleo.

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Jack Daleo

Jack Daleo is a staff writer for Flying Magazine covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel — and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.