Amazon has settled a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that it wrongfully terminated two Seattle office employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, in retaliation for their advocacy on behalf of warehouse workers at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The settlement stipulates that Amazon is required to pay Costa and Cunningham lost wages, and notify all of its employees that they have the right to take collective action and make public statements about work-related issues.
Costa and Cunningham characterized the settlement in a statement as “a win for protecting workers rights.”
“It’s also not lost on us that we are two women who were targeted for firing,” they added. “Inequality, racism, and sexism are at the heart of both the climate crisis and the pandemic.”
Amazon “welcome[s] the resolution of this matter,” spokesperson Jose Negrete said in an email.
The settlement comes amid ongoing criticism from labor advocates of Amazon’s stance toward employee organizing, particularly following an unsuccessful union campaign at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
Costa and Cunningham, leaders of the activist group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, were fired last April, after announcing an internal event for warehouse workers to tell tech employees about safety conditions at Amazon’s warehouses.
Amazon has said it discharged the employees for repeatedly violating internal policies against commenting publicly on the company’s business without executive approval.
Seattle’s United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 21 filed a complaint with the NLRB last October saying that Amazon’s firing of Costa and Cunningham violated employees’ protected right to organize within their workplace. The settlement came in the lead-up to a hearing Wednesday, which was delayed several times as the parties pushed to reach an agreement on terms.
“Being able to assist not-yet-unionized workers who were acting in accordance with the law and who were fired has been an honor and responsibility we took very seriously,” UFCW 21 president Faye Guenther said in a statement. “We felt that the workers had a strong case from the beginning and we want to encourage all workers to speak out in a collective and constructive way to improve their workplaces if they so choose.”
Though Costa and Cunningham are no longer at Amazon — Costa now works for Microsoft; Cunningham is unemployed — they plan to continue working with Amazon Employees for Climate Justice to press the commerce behemoth to set and meet ambitious carbon-reduction goals. The group, composed of current and former Amazon workers, rose to prominence in late 2019 when it organized a walkout of more than 1,700 employees calling on the tech giant to reduce its carbon footprint. In the past year, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice has focused much of its attention on climate equity and workplace issues, including by advocating on behalf of warehouse workers amid the pandemic.
“We’re much more afraid of the climate crisis than we are of Amazon,” Cunningham told members of the group at a rally last week, held to show support for Cunningham and Costa in the lead-up to the hearing. “We have an incredibly narrow window to turn this around.”
In its most recent climate report, Amazon said its carbon footprint increased by 19% last year.
The company has also faced regulatory challenges related to its actions during the union election at the Bessemer warehouse.
The NLRB concluded last month that Amazon unduly interfered in that election, including by polling employees about how they planned to vote in the presence of supervisors, and installing an unauthorized vote-collection box near surveillance cameras. Amazon’s conduct “justifies a second election,” the NLRB recommended in that case.
This article has been updated to clarify the sequence of events prior to Costa and Cunningham’s firing.