Amazon Reaches Labor Deal, Giving Workers More Power to Organize

SEATTLE – Amazon, facing increasing scrutiny over worker rights, agreed to allow its warehouse employees to more easily organize in the workplace as part of a nationwide agreement with the National Labor Relations Board this month. .

Under the agreement, final on Wednesday, Amazon said it would email past and current warehouse workers, likely more than a million people, with notifications of their rights and give them greater flexibility to organize in their buildings. The agreement it also makes it easier and faster for the NLRB, which investigates allegations of unfair labor practices, to sue Amazon if it believes the company violated terms.

Amazon has already settled individual cases with the labor agency, but the national scope of the new agreement and its concessions to the organization go further than any previous agreement.

Due to Amazon’s sheer size, with more than 750,000 people working at its operations in the United States alone, the agency said the deal would reach one of the largest groups of workers in its history. The tech giant also agreed to terms that would allow the NLRB to bypass an administrative hearing process, a lengthy and cumbersome task, if the agency determined that the company had not complied with the agreement.

The settlement stemmed from six cases of Amazon workers who said the company limited their ability to organize their colleagues. The New York Times obtained a copy.

It’s a “big problem given the sheer size of Amazon,” said Wilma B. Liebman, who was the president of the NLRB under Barack Obama.

Amazon, which has been on a hiring frenzy during the pandemic and is the second-largest private employer in the country after Walmart, has faced increased job pressure as its workforce has soared to nearly 1.5 million. Worldwide. The company has become a prominent example of a rising tide of worker organizing as the pandemic changes what employees expect of their employers.

This year, Amazon has taken on organizing efforts in warehouses in Alabama and New York, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters made a formal commitment to support the organization in the company. Other companies, such as Starbucks, Kellogg and Deere & Company, have also faced increased union activity.

Compounding the problem, Amazon is struggling to find enough employees to fuel its growth. The company relied on a high-turnover employment model, which has now crashed into a phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, with workers in many industries quitting their jobs in search of a better deal for themselves.

Amazon has responded by raising wages and promising to improve its workplace. It has said it would spend $ 4 billion to address the labor shortage this quarter alone.

“This settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers in 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.” Jennifer Abruzzo, the NLRB’s new general counsel appointed by President Biden, said in a statement Thursday.

Amazon declined to comment. The company has said it supports workers’ rights to organize, but believes that employees are better served without a union.

Amazon and the labor agency have been in increasing contact and, at times, in conflict. More than 75 cases alleging unfair labor practices They have been filed against Amazon since the start of the pandemic, according to the NLRB database. Ms. Abruzzo has also issued several memoranda directing agency staff to enforce labor laws against employers more aggressively.

Last month, the agency dismissed the results of a prominent and failed union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, saying the company had inappropriately interfered with voting. The agency ordered another election. Amazon has not appealed the finding, although it still can.

Other employers, from hair salons to retirement communities, have struck national agreements with the NLRB in the past by changing policies.

With the new agreement, Amazon agreed to change a policy that limited employee access to its facilities and notify employees that it had done so, in addition to informing them of other employment rights. The deal requires Amazon to post notices across all of its US operations and in the employee app, A-to-Z call. Amazon is also required to send an email to everyone who has worked at its operations since March. .

In previous cases, Amazon explicitly said that a settlement did not constitute an admission of wrongdoing. Similar language was not included in the new settlement. In September, Ms Abruzzo ordered NLRB staff to accept these “no-admission clauses” only on rare occasions.

The combination of terms, including the “unusual” commitment to email former and current employees, made the Amazon deal stand out, Liebman said, adding that other large employers are likely to take notice.

“It sends a signal that this attorney general takes law enforcement very seriously and what he will accept,” he said.

The six cases that led to Amazon’s settlement with the agency involved its workers in Chicago and Staten Island, New York. They had said that Amazon prohibited them from being in areas like a break room or parking lot for up to 15 minutes before or after their shifts, making any work difficult. organizing.

One case was brought by Ted Miin, who works at an Amazon delivery station in Chicago. In an interview, Mr. Miin said that a manager had told him: “It has been more than 15 minutes of your shift and you are not allowed to be here,” when he distributed bulletins at a protest in April.

“The coworkers were upset by the understaffing and overwork and organized a strike,” he said, adding that a security guard also pressured him to leave the place while handing out flyers.

In another case on Staten Island, Amazon threatened to call police about an employee who delivered union literature at the scene, said Seth Goldstein, an attorney representing company workers in Staten Island.

The right of workers to organize on site during non-working time is Well establishedsaid Matthew Bodie, a former NLRB attorney who teaches employment law at Saint Louis University.

“The fact that you can hang out and chat is a great period of sheltered concerted activity, and the board has always been very protective of that,” he said.

Mr. Miin, who is part of an organizing group called Amazonians United Chicagoland, and other workers in Chicago reached a deal with Amazon in the spring on the 15-minute rule at a different delivery station where they’d worked last year. Two corporate employees also struck a private deal with Amazon in a deal that included a nationwide notice of workers’ rights, but the agency does not control it.

Goldstein said he was “impressed” that the NLRB had pressured Amazon to agree to terms that would allow the agency to bypass its administrative hearing process, which occurs before a judge and in which the parties prepare arguments and present evidence, if found. to the enterprise. I had broken the terms of the agreement.

“They can get a court order for Amazon to obey federal labor law,” he said.

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