Amazon CEO’s Anti-Union Media Comments Broke the Law, Labor Officials Allege

Andy Jassy told CNBC that Amazon thinks employees would be "better off" without a union. A new NLRB complaint alleges that violated labor law.
Jules Roscoe
New York, US
Amazon CEO’s Anti-Union Media Comments Broke the Law, Labor Officials Allege
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy. Image: Bloomberg / Contributor via Getty Images

The National Labor Relations Board released a complaint and notice of hearing against Amazon CEO Andy Jassy on Wednesday night for comments he made on CNBC’s Squawk Box and at the Bloomberg Tech Summit earlier this year, which the Board alleges broke labor laws. 

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The complaint, based on a charge filed initially by the Amazon Labor Union in May, claims Jassy’s comments were “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees” in regard to their rights to inform themselves about unions and to choose whether or not to join them. 

On Squawk Box, in early April, Jassy—who took over from Jeff Bezos last year—told interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin that he did not think it was a good idea for Amazon workers to unionize. “It’s employees’ choice whether or not they want to join a union,” he said. “We happen to think they’re better off not doing so for a couple of reasons at least. At a place like Amazon that empowers employees, if they see something they can do better for customers or for themselves, they can go meet in a room, decide how [to] change it and change it. That type of empowerment doesn’t happen when you have unions.”

“When you take care of employees and employees are safe and they love working where they work, they stay longer,” he continued. “They tend to be happier, they tend to be more productive.” 

Jassy also said it would be more efficient for employees to have direct relations with their managers instead of going through a union to talk to them, and that having a union would weaken that relationship. Unions, he continued, are much more “bureaucratic” and not as efficient. The NLRB complaint alleges that his comments violate the National Labor Relations Act. 

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“It sets a tone of threatening workers that they’ll lose contact with managers, and that’s not true,” said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer for the ALU who contributed to the complaint. “Board law says you have the right to meet with your manager. [Jassy’s comment] is false, it violates employee rights under the Act.”

Goldstein had the filing amended in June after Jassy made similar comments to interviewer Emily Chang at the Bloomberg Tech Summit, which the complaint alleges also violated labor law. “He just can’t stop,” Goldstein said. “Why should he get away with it?”

At the Summit, Jassy reiterated that Amazon thinks employees shouldn't unionize. “We happen to think they’re better off without a union,” he said, once again claiming there are better manager-employee connections without one. “We need to continue to provide the right benefits and we need to continue to work on safety, and that’s our intention.” 

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel dismissed the allegations as false in a statement and maintained that Jassy's comments were within the law. 

“These allegations are completely without merit, and the comments in question are clearly protected by express language of the National Labor Relations Act and decades of NLRB precedent,” Nantel wrote in an email to Motherboard. “The comments lawfully explain Amazon’s views on unionization and the way it could affect the ability of our employees to deal directly with their managers, and they began with a clear recognition of our employees’ right to organize and in no way contained threats of reprisal. We believe our employees, their families, and other stakeholders benefit from a full understanding of the facts on important topics like this. We’re committed to ensuring everyone understands our perspective and to explaining it respectfully and transparently.”

Jassy’s comments referenced in the complaint were made around the time that the first Amazon warehouse unionized in Staten Island after a successful worker-led organization. Since then, two warehouses lost union elections—most recently in Albany, where the ALU has filed 23 objections to the results of the election claiming coercion and retaliation from management. 

One warehouse in California also pulled its petition for an election before the campaigning started. Amazon warehouse workers also have one of the highest rates of turnover in the industry, and according to a report sent to Engadget, quit twice as often as they are fired. 

The NLRB complaint states that Jassy’s claims are sufficient to request a hearing, and have set one on Feb. 7, 2023, in Seattle. Jassy has until Nov. 8 to respond to the summons. 

“This was corporate union-busting,” Goldstein said. “We’re going to go out to Seattle and see if we can put Jassy on the stand, so he can answer why he violated labor law.”