Amazon illegally confiscated union pamphlets from a warehouse worker and creeped on a pro-union barbecue, NLRB says

Isobel Asher Hamilton Aug 4, 2021, 6:18 AM

Amazon Workers Strike Outside Staten Island Warehouse On May Day
Amazon Workers Strike Outside Staten Island Warehouse On May Day. 
  • The NLRB found Amazon illegally stopped a worker handing out union pamphlets, Vice reports.
  • The NLRB also said Amazon gave the impression it was surveilling a pro-union barbecue, per Vice.
  • Vice’s report came as the NLRB, a federal agency, said Amazon interfered with an Alabama union vote.

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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charged Amazon with illegally stopping an employee in its Staten Island warehouse from handing out pro-union leaflets, according to documentation viewed by Vice.

Amazon worker Connor Spence, who first filed the charge against Amazon, told Vice he was handing out leaflets in the break room on May 16 when a security guard told him he didn’t have permission to do so.

“He took the union literature away and wouldn’t give it back,” Spence told Vice.

According to the US National Labor Relations Act of 1935, employers cannot interfere with union organizing.

The NLRB’s investigation also said that Amazon illegally gave the impression it was surveilling union activity, according to Vice’s report.

Spence told Vice that union organizers held regular barbecues near the warehouse, and that on May 24 a security guard was seen appearing to photograph people at the barbecue. 

The Vice report came days after the NLRB, a federal agency, said Amazon illegally interfered in a union vote at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, in April. The NLRB recommended a re-run of that vote.

Read more: Shopify’s president, Harley Finkelstein, explains why he doesn’t consider Amazon a competitor

Workers at the Bessemer warehouse voted against forming a union, but the NLRB report said Amazon’s numerous anti-union tactics meant “a free and fair election was impossible.” The NLRB’s verdict isn’t final, and Amazon said in a statement to Ars Technica that it planned to appeal.

“Our employees had a chance to be heard during a noisy time when all types of voices were weighing into the national debate, and at the end of the day, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of a direct connection with their managers and the company. Their voice should be heard above all else, and we plan to appeal to ensure that happens,” the company told Ars Technica in a statement.

Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island is currently the site of a major union drive that started in April following the vote in Bessemer. On April 24, Truthout journalist Candice Bernd reported that the warehouse sent messages dissuading employees from signing union cards, and Protocol reported on April 28 that Amazon had started displaying anti-union messages on TV monitors in JFK8. 

Involved in the Staten Island union push is Chris Smalls, a former JFK8 worker who was fired in March 2020 after he led an employee protest over safety and working conditions at the beginning of the pandemic. Smalls says his dismissal was retaliation, while the company says he was fired for violating social-distancing rules.

New York’s Attorney General Letitia James in February accused Amazon of illegally retaliating against Smalls and another employee called Derrick Palmer. In a leaked April 2020 memo after Smalls was fired, Amazon executives discussed a PR campaign against Smalls and making him the “face of the entire union/organizing movement.”

Amazon did not respond to Vice’s report. Neither Amazon nor the NLRB immediately responded when contacted by Insider about Vice’s report.


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