Amazon broke federal labor law by calling Staten Island union organizers ‘thugs,’ interrogating workers

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Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, left, speaks next to Christian Smalls, founder of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), during an ALU rally in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., on Sunday, April 24, 2022.
Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Amazon and consultants for the company violated federal labor law by interrogating and threatening employees regarding their union activities, and racially disparaging organizers who were seeking to unionize a Staten Island warehouse, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled.

The NLRB said Friday that Administrative Law Judge Lauren Esposito found Amazon “committed multiple violations” of federal labor law at its largest warehouse in New York, called JFK8, between May and October 2021, a period that saw an increase in organizing activity.

In April 2022, employees voted to join the Amazon Labor Union, a grassroots group of current and former workers, becoming the first unionized Amazon facility in the U.S. Since that victory, the group has been fighting to reach a contract with Amazon. 

The judge in New York heard testimony from Amazon employees, managers and labor consultants in virtual hearings that went on for almost a year. Esposito determined Amazon illegally confiscated organizing pamphlets from employees that were being distributed in on-site breakrooms and conducted surveillance of employees’ organizing activities.

Amazon also violated labor laws when it sent an employee at a neighboring facility to JFK8 home early from his shift and changed his work assignments in retaliation for supporting the union, the judge found. The employee, Daequan Smith, sorted packages at a delivery station called DYY6, down the street from JFK8.

Additionally, the judge found that Amazon broke the law when a “union avoidance” consultant, Bradley Moss, who was hired by the company, threatened employees, telling them it would be “futile” to vote to join the ALU. Amazon and other companies often hire labor consultants like Moss, referred to as “persuaders,” to dissuade workers from unionizing. The company spent $14 million on anti-union consultants in 2022, the Huffington Post reported in March, citing disclosure forms filed with the Department of Labor.

As a result of the ruling, Amazon will be required to post notices reminding workers of their rights at its JFK8 and DYY6 facilities. The company also has to make Smith “whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits,” the NLRB said.

In one exchange with a JFK8 employee, Natalie Monarrez, Moss discussed the union campaign at another Amazon facility, BHM1, in Bessemer, Alabama. Monarrez said Moss told her the Bessemer campaign was “not a serious union drive,” but a “Black Lives Matter protest about social injustice.”

“Moss then pointed to the front of the JFK8 warehouse and said, ‘Just like these guys out here, they’re just a bunch of thugs,'” Esposito wrote in her judgment, citing testimony from Monarrez.

Moss and representatives from Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Employees at BHM1 voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in April 2021, but the results of the election were tossed after the NLRB found Amazon improperly interfered in the vote. A do-over election was held last year, but the results remain too close to call.

Amazon’s labor record has been scrutinized heavily, especially as union organizing ramped up in its warehouse and delivery workforce during the Covid pandemic. The company faces 240 open or settled unfair labor practice charges across 26 states, according to the NLRB, concerning a range of allegations, including its conduct around union elections.

The company has also clashed with Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee and one of the leaders of ALU. A leaked memo obtained by Vice revealed David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel, had referred to Smalls, a Black man, as “not smart or articulate,” and recommended making him “the face” of efforts to organize workers.

Amazon continues to challenge the JFK8 election results, as well as the NLRB and the union’s conduct during the drive. The agency upheld the results of the election in January.

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