Amazon Told Workers Union Organizers Are ‘Thugs,’ Labor Board Investigation Finds

Amazon representatives also asked workers for their “grievances” with the “express promise” to fix them if workers did not support the union, the complaint states.

Jan 27 2022, 6:42pm

Amazon representatives told workers at JFK8, its largest New York City warehouse, that an ongoing union drive would fail because union organizers were “thugs,” and said it would be “futile” to vote for a union because a union would “never happen here,” a National Labor Relations Board complaint obtained by Motherboard states. 

The complaint also outlines a series of significant remedies that would require Amazon to, for the first time, train its managers, supervisors, security guards, and union avoidance consultants on its workers’ rights to organize and form unions. In this case, workers filed a series of unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB in May and June, the NLRB investigated those charges, and found merit that they occurred. The complaint in question will be the basis for an upcoming trial.

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Last May, Amazon representatives interrogated workers about union activities, asked workers for their “grievances” with the “express promise” to fix them if workers did not support the union, and told workers not to distribute union literature without their permission,” the complaint states.

“These allegations are false and we look forward to showing that through this process,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, told Motherboard.

The giant fulfillment center and three surrounding Amazon warehouses in Staten Island are expected to face a union election in the coming months, the second Amazon warehouse to reach this milestone in the United States. Amazon Labor Union, an independent union that has been organizing workers at the warehouse complex for months, obtained sufficient support to hold a union election, NLRB officials told Motherboard on Wednesday.  

On May 4, Bradley Moss, a union avoidance consultant brought into JFK8 to convince workers against unionizing with Amazon Labor Union threatened Amazon employees and told them it “would be futile for them to select the Union as their bargaining representative by telling employees that the Union organizing would fail because the Union organizers were ‘thugs,’” the complaint states. The company also hired Moss to persuade workers in Bessemer, Alabama against unionizing last year, in an election that the union lost nearly two-to-one. 

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Amazon executives have previously discussed a plan to smear Chris Smalls, the president of Amazon Labor Union, who is Black, calling him “not smart or articulate,” according to a memo leaked to VICE News in April 2020. The company fired him in March 2020 after he led a walkout in protest of COVID-19 health and safety protections at the facility.  

According to the new complaint, last May, a security guard also approached JFK8 employees in a breakroom and told them “they could not distribute union literature without permission,” “confiscated” the union literature, and “surveilled employees.” In two other instances in June, security guards told employees that they could not distribute union literature and confiscated it, the complaint alleges. 

One of those employees was the Amazon warehouse worker and union activist, Connor Spencer. The guard “took the union literature away and wouldn’t give it back,” Spence told Motherboard late last year after a labor board investigation found evidence that Amazon had violated his rights. “I filed the charge so that there’s accountability in place that prevents them from doing this in the future.” 

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As a remedy for these alleged violations, the complaint states that Amazon will be required to hold “mandatory training sessions” for all supervisors, managers, security guards, and union avoidance consultants at JFK8 that cover workers rights to organize and form unions free from retaliation. Amazon will also be required to read a notice with workers’ union rights aloud to all employees at the facility, and “hand deliver and email” notices with workers’ union rights to each supervisor and manager at the facility. More than 5,000 workers are employed by JFK8.

“I want to praise the labor board for this landmark remedy,” said Seth Goldstein, a pro-bono attorney for the workers. “Amazon has never faced a requirement for a public reading. I think that will go a long way to help their challenges with respecting the National Labor Relations Act.”

It is illegal for employers to interfere with or retaliate against workers involved in union activity, including by surveilling or creating the impression of surveillance of union organizing, under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. In recent years, the NLRB has repeatedly found evidence that Amazon has illegally violated these laws, but the penalties for doing so are usually not significant, and Amazon has never been required to train its managers or employees previously on the laws that protect workers who organize unions. 

Amazon will now have the opportunity to settle with the labor board, or go to trial before an administrative judge. 

Last April, following the defeat of an Amazon union election in Bessemer, Alabama, Smalls and other warehouse workers began their own union drive at JFK8. Amazon immediately responded with a campaign that has included anti-union flyers, text messages, and mandatory meetings, including one that Motherboard obtained an audio recording of in late 2021. 

Amazon will face a re-election at its fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama in February. A judge found that Amazon broke the law in a union election held at the facility last year by asking the USPS to install it in its parking lot.

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