National Labor Board Demands Amazon Reinstate Fired Worker Activist

The rare request signals the NLRB wants to aggressively enforce the law to protect Amazon workers who are retaliated against for union organizing. 

Mar 17 2022, 5:17pm
On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

The National Labor Relations Board took a rare step in federal court on Thursday to seek the immediate reinstatement of Gerald Bryson, a fired Amazon warehouse worker activist in New York City, according to court documents obtained by Motherboard. Amazon terminated Bryson in 2020 after he led two COVID safety protests. 

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“I’m ecstatic knowing that I may now be reinstated while my case is being resolved,” said Gerald Bryson, the fired Amazon warehouse worker who worked at JFK8, Amazon’s fulfillment center in Staten Island. “I would finally be able to support my family again. My reinstatement would also bring hope to workers at JFK8 and beyond.”

The claims filed against Amazon on Thursday use the injunctive relief provision of the National Labor Relations Act, which includes reinstatement of fired workers. The filing represents a shift in how the board handles retaliation cases against workers for union organizing and suggests the labor board will aggressively enforce the law to protect Amazon workers who are retaliated against for union organizing. 

In late 2020, following an investigation, the NLRB found sufficient evidence that Amazon had illegally terminated Bryson. 

“We are thrilled that the National Labor Relations Board is taking this vital step to demand the immediate reinstatement of Mr. Bryson,” said Sienna Fontaine, the general counsel of Make the Road New York, the community organization that has represented Bryson in this case. “Throughout the pandemic, Amazon has violated federal law by maintaining dangerous working conditions and repeatedly retaliating against workers who organize. Mr. Bryson's case should be an inspiration for worker-organizers across the country, and the Board's decision to seek injunctive relief should send a wake up call to companies that are suppressing workers’ right to organize.”

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“It’s noteworthy that the NLRB is pursuing an ‘emergency injunction’ right before an election when they’ve known the facts in this case for over 18 months,” said Barbara Agrait, an Amazon spokesperson. “And it’s confusing that they’re fighting to protect behavior that no employer or co-worker should have to tolerate: Mr. Bryson was broadcast live on social media, bullying, cursing at, and defaming a female co-worker over a bullhorn. He’s remained unapologetic and the videos remain online to this day. We look forward to a judge reviewing the facts in this case.”

The injunctive relief provision of the National Labor Relations Act, formally known as “10(j),” is arguably the strongest relief that the NLRA offers workers in the United States, but it has been sparingly used, particularly during the Trump administration, which filed only a handful of injunctions each year. According to the NLRB database, which extends back to 2010, Bryson’s case marks the first time this injunctive relief provision has been used in a case against Amazon. 

As part of the relief, the labor board is also requesting that Amazon post a copy of the court order in English and Spanish in all “breakrooms, bathrooms, bathroom stalls” at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, and on Amazon’s A-to-Z app for all workers. The filing also requests that Amazon representatives read the order aloud at a meeting with all hourly JFK8 employees in English and Spanish. 

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“We are seeking an injunction in District Court to immediately reinstate a worker that Amazon illegally fired for exercising his Section 7 rights,” said Kathy Drew King, region 29 regional director of the NLRB. “No matter how large the employer, it is important for workers to know their rights—particularly during a union election—and that the NLRB will vociferously defend them.”

In recent months, Jennifer Abruzzo, Biden’s newly sworn-in general counsel for the NLRB, has issued a series of memos signaling that she will take a tougher stance on companies that violate that National Labor Relations Act. In September, Abruzzo wrote in a memo that she would make greater use of the injunctive relief provision in cases where workers were retaliated against during union drives. 

“I believe that Section 10(j) injunctions are one of the most important tools available to effectively enforce the Act,” Abruzzo wrote. 

During the pandemic, Amazon fired warehouse workers and white collar workers who were involved in organizing unions or protesting the company in other ways. Many of these workers have filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board that can take years to resolve and involve employers, such as Amazon, who are loath to rehire fired workers. With the injunction relief provision, the process of reinstating a worker crucial to an organizing drive is significantly faster.  Bryson is involved in an active union drive at JFK8, where workers will begin voting in-person on whether to unionize on March 25. 

At the time of Bryson’s firing, Amazon claimed it had terminated him for demeaning and bullying a fellow coworker at a protest in April 2020 which Bryson had been leading on his day off. 

But according to a statement filed with the NLRB, Bryson, who is Black, had been verbally accosted by a white employee during her break who told him to “Get the fuck out of here” and “Go back to where you came from. Go back to the Bronx.” In response, Bryson has called the worker “a bitch.” Bryson was subsequently fired for violating Amazon’s vulgar language policy. 

The judge assigned to the case will now determine a timeline for Amazon to respond by. 

Tagged:

labor, unions, NLRB, On the Clock

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