SEATTLE – Amazon, which is facing increasing scrutiny of labor rights, agreed to make its warehouse employees more easily organized in the workplace as part of a nationwide settlement with the National Labor Relations Board this month.
During the settlement, which was finally reached on Wednesday, Amazon said it would email former and current warehouse workers – probably more than one million people – with alerts about their rights and give them more flexibility to organize in their buildings. The agreement also makes it easier and faster for NLRB, which investigates allegations of unfair work practices, to sue Amazon if they believe the company has violated the terms.
Amazon has previously settled individual cases with the employment agency, but the national scope of the new settlement and its concessions to the organization go further than any previous agreement.
Due to Amazon’s large size – more than 750,000 people work in the business in the United States alone – the agency said the settlement would reach one of the largest groups of workers in its history. The technology giant also agreed to terms that would allow the NLRB to circumvent an administrative consultation process, a lengthy and cumbersome obligation, if the agency found that the company had not complied with the settlement.
The deal stemmed from six cases by Amazon workers who said the company limited their ability to organize colleagues. A copy was obtained by The New York Times.
It’s a “big deal given the size of the Amazon,” said Wilma B. Liebman, who chaired the NLRB under President Barack Obama.
Amazon, which has been on a frenzy in the pandemic and is the country’s second largest private employer after Walmart, has faced increased work pressure as the workforce has risen to almost 1.5 million globally. The company has become a leading example of a growing wave of workers’ organization as the pandemic transforms what employees expect of their employers.
This year, Amazon has been fighting for organizational work at department stores in Alabama and New York, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has formally committed to supporting organization in the company. Other companies, such as Starbucks, Kellogg and Deere & Company, have also faced increasing union activity.
To exacerbate the problem, Amazon is struggling to find enough employees to saturate growth. The company was built on a model of high-turnover employment, which has now crashed into a phenomenon known as the great resignation, with workers in many industries quitting their jobs in search of a better deal for themselves.
Amazon has responded by raising wages and promised to improve its workplace. It has said it will spend $ 4 billion to deal with labor shortages this quarter alone.
“This Settlement Agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action,” Jennifer Abruzzo, NLRBs New Attorney General appointed by President Biden, said in a statement Thursday.
Amazon declined to comment. The company has said that it supports workers’ rights to organize, but believes employees are better served without a union.
Amazon and the Labor Department have been in increasing contact, and at times conflict. More than 75 lawsuits alleging unfair work practices have been filed against Amazon since the start of the pandemic, according to NLRB’s database. Abruzzo has also issued several notes asking the agency’s employees to enforce labor laws against employers more aggressively.
Last month, the agency threw out the results of a failed, prominent union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, saying the company had improperly interfered in the vote. The agency ordered a new election. Amazon has not appealed the finding, although it can still do so.
Other employers, from beauty salons to retirement communities, have previously made nationwide settlements with the NLRB when they changed policies.
With the new settlement, Amazon agreed to change a policy that restricted employees’ access to the facilities and notify employees that they had done so, as well as inform them of other labor rights. The settlement requires Amazon to post messages in all of its U.S. businesses and on the employee app, called A to Z. Amazon must also send emails to all people who have worked in the business since March.
In previous cases, Amazon explicitly stated that a settlement did not involve an admission of misconduct. No similar language was included in the new settlement. In September, Abruzzo asked NLRB employees to accept these “non-admission clauses” only rarely.
The combination of terms, including the “unusual” obligation to email former and current employees, made Amazon’s settlement stand out, Liebman said, adding that other large employers would likely notice.
“It sends a signal that this attorney general is really serious about enforcing the law and what they will accept,” she said.
The six cases that led to Amazon’s settlement with the agency involved workers in Chicago and Staten Island, NY. They had said that Amazon forbade them to be in areas such as a break room or parking lot before within 15 minutes before or after shifts, which prevented any organization.
A case was brought by Ted Miin, who works at an Amazon delivery station in Chicago. In an interview, Mr. Miin said a leader had told him, “It’s more than 15 minutes over your shift, and you are not allowed to be here,” when he handed out newsletters at a protest in April.
“Employees were outraged at being understaffed and overworked and staged a walkout,” he said, adding that a security guard also forced him to leave the place while handing out brochures.
In another case on Staten Island, Amazon threatened to call police to an employee who distributed union literature on the spot, said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer representing the company’s workers in Staten Island.
The right of workers to organize on-site during non-working hours is well established, said Matthew Bodie, a former NLRB lawyer who teaches labor law at Saint Louis University.
“The fact that you can hang around and chat – these are first-class, protected coordinated periods of activity, and the board has always been very protective of it,” he said.
Mr. Miin, who is part of an organizational group called Amazonians United Chicagoland, and other workers in Chicago reached an agreement with Amazon this spring on the 15-minute rule at another delivery station where they worked last year. Two corporate employees also made a private settlement with Amazon in an agreement that included a nationwide notification of employee rights, but the agency does not control it.
Mr Goldstein said he was “impressed” that the NLRB had pressured Amazon to agree to terms that would allow the agency to circumvent its administrative consultation process, which takes place before a judge and where the parties prepare arguments and present evidence, if they find the company. . had violated the terms of the agreement.
“They could get a court order to get Amazon to comply with federal labor laws,” he said.