A federal judge filed a cease-and-desist order against Amazon on Friday, demanding that the company stop firing its employees for participating in union organizing.
The court order, filed in the Eastern District of New York by District Judge Diana Gujarati, demands that Amazon cease and desist from “discharging employees because they engaged in protected concerted activity” and “in any like or related manner interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed to them by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.”
The order was a response to a petition filed by Gerald Bryson, a former Amazon employee who in 2020 was fired for protesting the company’s lack of safety protocols regarding COVID-19. Bryson worked at JFK8, the company’s Staten Island warehouse which has since become famous as the first Amazon facility to successfully unionize, earlier this year. He had participated in multiple protests alongside then-worker Christian Smalls, who is now the president of the Amazon Labor Union.
At the time, the National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon had illegally retaliated against Bryson by terminating him, and demanded that it reinstate him. Judge Gujarati’s order denied Bryson’s request to get his job back because, it claimed, it would not have a significant effect on workers’ willingness to organize.
“I’m glad the judge ordered Amazon to stop retaliating against workers who are organizing for better conditions, and I’m glad she agrees that Amazon broke the law when they fired me, but I can’t believe that I have to keep waiting for justice,” Bryson said. “This will be another year that my kid won’t get a Christmas just because his dad was demanding protection from COVID at work.”
The cease-and-desist order, however, will play a large role in future Amazon unionizations.
“This is of huge significance,” said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer for the ALU. “This is a national cease-and-desist order. That means that wherever in the country they violate it, theoretically the National Labor Relations Board can immediately seek a Contempt of Court order. A federal judge is not happy when a party violates their rule—there can be sanctions of all types.”
Amazon has previously retaliated against union organizers in its facilities. Workers were trying to organize at a warehouse in Albany earlier this year. The company responded by sending in third-party union-busting consultants, who would hold captive audience meetings and take workers off the warehouse floor for one-on-one talks. The warehouse, ALB1, lost its union election in October by a two-to-one margin. The ALU filed objections to that result, blaming Amazon’s retaliatory conduct.
“The employer’s coercive, threatening and retaliatory conduct destroyed any possibility for the Region to conduct a free and fair election while also creating a sustained atmosphere before and during the critical period where voters’ 'uninhibited desires' were completely chilled,” the ALU filing read.
Goldstein continued to say that Amazon was still violating the NLRB’s standards. “Within 24 hours of the order, one of our union organizers, Connor Spence, was disciplined for violating Amazon’s no-access policy, which is unlawful to begin with. They’re continuing to violate the law. They don’t abide by anything.”
An Amazon spokesperson said the company had “nothing to add at this point” regarding the cease-and-desist order.
“When it comes to the issue of the national order, it’s broad, it’s sweeping,” Goldstein said. “No one has gotten that yet against Amazon. I think it’s a well-drafted decision.”