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NLRB will file complaint against Amazon if it doesn’t settle with fired tech workers

SEATTLE — The National Labor Relations Board notified two women fired by Amazon last year that it will pursue unfair labor practices claims against the company unless it settles.

A lawyer for the agency notified the fired workers — Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who both worked on user experience design at the e-commerce giant — that Amazon may have violated the National Labor Relations Act. The agency’s Seattle office, which is investigating the case, told the women that unless Amazon settles the case, it would issue a complaint accusing the company of violating the section of the law that bars it from interfering with employee rights to engage in “concerted activities.”

If Amazon doesn’t agree to settle the case, the agency told Cunningham and Costa last week, its Seattle regional office would issue a complaint in the “next few weeks” and a trial date would likely be scheduled four to six months out.

“It shows that we’re not only on the right side of history but the right side of the law, too,” Cunningham said.

The New York Times first reported on the NLRB’s correspondence with the women.

Amazon fired the women last April after they publicly denounced conditions at its warehouses as unsafe during the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon had previously warned the two women, who had been outspoken critics of the company’s climate policies, that they could be fired for future violations of its communications policy.

Amazon disagrees with the determination made by the Seattle region, spokesman Jose Negrete said.

“We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful,” Negrete said in an emailed statement. “We terminated these employees not for the reasons cited in the preliminary finding, but because they repeatedly violated internal policies.”

(Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The threat of an unfair labor practices claim comes as Amazon is also fighting an organizing drive in Bessemer, Ala., where pro-union workers have complained about harsh working conditions. The NLRB is in the midst of counting ballots in an election in which more than 5,800 warehouse workers are choosing whether to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Preliminary results in that vote could come this week.

The two women were both part of the group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which has protested the company’s track record on environmental responsibility. That lead to a 2019 walkout of more than 1,000 workers during the global climate strike. The group has called on the company to, among other things, end contracts with its cloud-computing business that help energy companies accelerate oil and gas extraction.

Cunningham was fired after offering on Twitter to match donations up to $ 500 to Amazon warehouse workers, writing that a lack of safe and sanitary working conditions “puts them and the public at risk.” Costa was fired after she, too, offered on Twitter to match donations up to $ 500 for warehouse workers “while they struggle to get consistent, sufficient protections and procedures from our employer.”

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