SEATTLE — Amazon illegally retaliated against two of its most prominent internal critics when it fired them last year, the National Labor Relations Board has determined.
The employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, had publicly pushed the company to reduce its impact on climate change and address concerns about its warehouse workers.
The agency told Cunningham and Costa that it would accuse Amazon of unfair labor practices if the company did not settle the case, according to correspondence that Cunningham shared with The New York Times.
“It’s a moral victory and really shows that we are on the right side of history and the right side of the law,” Cunningham said.
The two women were among dozens of Amazon workers who in the past year told the labor board about company retaliations, but in most other cases the workers had complained about pandemic safety.
“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,” said Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokeswoman. “We terminated these employees not for talking publicly about working conditions, safety or sustainability but, rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies.”
Costa and Cunningham, who worked as designers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, were part of a small group of employees who wanted the company to do more to address its climate impact. The group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, got more than 8,700 colleagues to support its efforts.
After Amazon told them that they had violated its external communications policy by speaking publicly about the business, their group organized 400 employees to also speak out, purposely violating the policy to make a point.
They also began raising concerns about safety in Amazon’s warehouses at the start of the pandemic. Amazon fired Costa and Cunningham in April 2020.
The labor board also upheld a complaint involving Jonathan Bailey, a co-founder of Amazonians United, a labor advocacy group. The agency filed a complaint against Amazon based on Bailey’s accusation that the company broke the law when it interrogated him after a walkout last year at the Queens, New York, warehouse where he works.
Amazon settled Bailey’s case, without admitting wrongdoing, and agreed to post notices informing employees of their rights in the break room. Anderson, the Amazon spokeswoman, said the company disagreed with allegations made in Bailey’s case.