The National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Amazon on Monday for having its employees sign a confidentiality agreement that the Board says restricts their rights to unionization. The complaint names Andy Jassy, Amazon’s CEO, as well as two Amazon Prime Air supervisors, as people who required employees to sign the agreement.
The complaint comes in response to an unfair labor practice charge filed in May by the plaintiff, Cheddi Skeete, who formerly worked on Amazon’s drone delivery program out of the company’s office in Seattle. As a condition of Skeete’s employment, Amazon had him sign a “Confidentiality, Noncompetition, and Invention Assignment Agreement” in August of 2021, the complaint states. It then quotes the confidentiality agreement in full.
“During employment and at all times thereafter, Employee will hold all Confidential Information in strictest confidence and will not acquire, use, publish, disclose, or communicate any Confidential Information except as required in connection with Employee's work without the prior written approval of an authorized officer of Amazon,” the agreement states.
The provision defines confidential information as: “proprietary or confidential information of Amazon in whatever form, tangible or intangible, whether or not marked or otherwise designated as confidential, that is not otherwise generally known to the public,” such as Amazon’s “business, projects, products, customers, suppliers, inventions, or trade secrets.” Some examples listed in the provision include “published and unpublished know-how…Amazon pricing policies…and future plans relating to any aspect of Amazon’s present or anticipated business.” Confidential information, the provision states, does not include the terms and conditions of the signer’s employment.
The Board alleges in the complaint that because the nature of the confidential information policy was so broad, it restricted workers’ rights to unionize.
“The language in Cheddi’s hiring agreement was overbroad,” said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer at Julien, Mirer, Singla and Goldstein, who represents Skeete. “It didn’t allow him to talk about anything at the company. You can’t talk about business functions, can’t talk about customers, can’t talk about anything at work. If you can’t talk about anything at work, it becomes very difficult to organize and engage in collective action, or speak out about anything.”
Goldstein said this agreement applies to “almost a million” corporate Amazon employees. Indeed, the complaint states that the alleged illegal labor practices “affect employees at all of [Amazon's] U.S. locations” and demands that Amazon “rescind the unlawful confidentiality policy” and notify all its employees that it is no longer in effect.
Amazon spokesperson Mary Kate Paradis told Motherboard in an email that nothing in the agreement restricted workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
“Confidentiality agreements are a common business practice,” Paradis said. “In this instance, the NLRB is taking one line of our agreement out of context and we look forward to showing that through the legal process.”
Paradis also said that Amazon disagreed that Skeete had been retaliated against, and said he was terminated for poor performance.
Though the NLRB complaint focuses mainly on the confidentiality policy, Skeete was also asked to sign a non-compete agreement. The Board’s General Counsel recently decided that overly broad non-competition agreements are illegal, and retroactively rescinded. Such agreements, the Board said at the time, unduly restrict workers’ job opportunities.
“This is a huge development,” Goldstein said. “I don’t know if this would have happened six months ago. I think it’s a cautionary tale to employers that they’d better get with the program and start looking at their policies, because we’re looking at them, and if there’s any violations we’re going to be sending it over to the Board.”