An Amazon worker says a consultant hired to defeat a union campaign at a company warehouse in New York promised to take her workplace concerns to Jeff Bezos in a potential violation of US labor law.
During a National Labor Relations Board hearing Thursday, Natalie Monarrez testified that she had a 45-minute conversation in May 2021 with Bradley Moss, a labor consultant who she said introduced himself as an Amazon auditor. Moss asked her to list her concerns and said his boss “had direct ties to Jeff Bezos and would be relaying all of my concerns and issues” to the Amazon founder, Monarrez said.
Monarrez also said it was the first time during her five years at Amazon that management had asked her to describe work-related problems. U.S. labor law restricts companies from promising new perks to workers if they reject unionization or implying that their concerns will be fixed if they don’t unionize.
An NLRB judge is considering a complaint brought by the labor board’s general counsel accusing Amazon of interfering with workers’ rights at the Staten Island warehouse where workers recently voted to unionize and firing an activist for organizing at another nearby facility.
The complaint states that last year Amazon illegally coerced employees in numerous ways, including by prohibiting them from distributing union literature and telling staff that organizing efforts would fail because the union organizers were “thugs.” The complaint also says the company asked employees to reveal their workplace grievances and promised to fix them if they rejected unionization.
The case is one of several involving the Staten Island warehouse currently being pursued by the agency’s prosecutors.
Amazon has denied wrongdoing. “These allegations are without merit and we look forward to presenting the facts,” company spokesperson Kelly Nantel said via email at the start of the hearing.
“Unless a company has a pre-existing practice of soliciting grievances, beginning to do so during a union organizing campaign and promising to fix the grievances is coercive, in that it tells employees that they don’t need a union to address their issues,” former NLRB Chair Wilma Liebman, who led the agency under President Barack Obama, said in an email.
Labor board judges’ rulings can be appealed to NLRB members in Washington, D.C. and from there to federal court. The agency has no authority to impose punitive damages but can require other remedies such as posting of notices and reversals of policies or punishments.
In the case now before a judge, the labor board’s general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo is seeking an order requiring Amazon to read a message to employees about their rights, post it electronically and in locations including bathroom stalls. She’s also asking the judge to require mandatory training about workers’ rights for Amazon’s managers and its outside anti-union consultants.
Amazon has challenged the Amazon Labor Union’s April election win at the Staten Island warehouse, which was the first time organized labor has gained a foothold at one of the e-commerce giant’s U.S. facilities. Amazon claims the union broke election rules and that the NLRB violated its duty to be impartial, including by suing for a federal court injunction to reinstate another activist the agency alleges was illegally fired there.
Abruzzo, appointed by President Joe Biden, dismissed that allegation in an interview last month. “But for Amazon’s unlawful labor practice, we would not have had to go into district court to seek an injunction,” she said.