(Bloomberg) – Amazon.com Inc. workers across the country now face fewer barriers to organizing against their employer, under an agreement the company reached with the US National Labor Relations Board.
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The agreement obliges Amazon to inform former and current employees of their rights and ensures that the organization of work on the company premises is not impaired after work. The settlement was finalized on Wednesday, which happened to coincide with a union organizing effort in New York City on the same day.
The deal is “very powerful” because it specifically bans practices Amazon has used to make it harder for workers to organize, including limiting their time on company premises when they are not working, said Janice Fine, professor of Ergonomics at Rutgers University. Organizing on construction sites when employees get together with people they know and trust can be more stimulating than out-of-town activists knocking on people’s doors at home, she said.
“It is an acknowledgment of all of the nefarious ways Amazon has violated the National Labor Relations Act,” said Fine. “I’m just wondering whether the employment office will monitor this and whether there are people on site who monitor it.”
Work organization and worker activity are increasing in Amazon facilities across the country. On Wednesday, a group of workers and organizers in Staten Island filed a union petition with the NLRB after failing to reach the signature threshold in the fall. In Chicago, workers from two warehouses left after a wage dispute, TechCrunch reported.
“This settlement agreement represents a critical commitment by Amazon to millions of its workers in the United States that it will not limit their right to act collectively to improve their jobs through union formation or other collective action,” said NLRB- Chief Jennifer Abruzzo said in a statement.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The New York Times first reported the comparison on Thursday.
The NLRB encourages companies to resolve disputes with workers and, if they do not, brings indictments before administrative judges. Their decisions can then be appealed to the president-appointed members of the NLRB in Washington and from there to a federal court.
Tech workers have been voicing their employers’ positions on issues such as immigration and climate change louder in recent years. In September, Google parent Alphabet Inc. settled a dispute with a software engineer who was allegedly sacked for activism in the workplace.
Amazon has faced dozens of work complaints since the pandemic began. Amazon reached a private settlement in September with two web designers who the US Labor Department alleged had been fired for activism in the workplace. Workers, who were laid off in 2020 after campaigning for Amazon to do more to fight climate change, said the deal required Amazon to repay them wages. Amazon denied wrongdoing.
There were few consequences for Amazon pushing the boundaries of U.S. labor laws. It has been able to resolve most of the previous complaints by agreeing to post signs in staff break rooms informing workers of their rights or by negotiating privately with their accusers. The latest settlement is more extensive than previous agreements, but still primarily involves Amazon informing workers of their existing rights.
(Updates with expert comment in the fourth paragraph.)
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