Amazon illegally fired employees who spoke out against working conditions

The National Labor Relations Board finds Amazon firings were illegal

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published April 5, 2021 8:20PM (EDT)

Jeff Bezos (Getty/Photo Montage by Salon)
Jeff Bezos (Getty/Photo Montage by Salon)

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined on Monday that Amazon illegally fired two of its employees last year, both of whom were staunch critics of the company's climate action policies and working conditions for warehouse employees. 

The employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, were fired in April of last year for "repeatedly violating internal policies." 

"We support every employee's right to criticize their employer's working conditions," explained Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokeswoman. "But that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful. We terminated these employees not for talking publicly about working conditions, safety or sustainability but, rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies."

Cunningham and Costa, both tech designers, are founding members of employee advocacy group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, an 8,700-strong worker-led group which has organized a series of demonstrations to pressure Amazon into developing an action plan on how to reduce its global emissions and pushed the company to address a number of other social issues related to its business practices.

During the pandemic, Cunningham and Costa spoke out against the company's unsafe working conditions for warehouse employees, which left many frontline workers especially vulnerable to infection. 

Last January, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice organized an event attended by hundreds of employees encouraging them to openly and intentionally violate the company's policy of speaking out against management without its approval.

In their complaint to the NLRB, Cunningham and Costa alleged that the tech giant terminated their employment due to the "discriminatory enforcement of policies or work rules, including its non-solicitation and communication policies." The NLRB said it would be issuing a follow-up complaint if their case could not be settled, according to The New York Times. Cunningham told CNN that the board's decision that she "couldn't be more happy with the news today." 

"It is a moral victory and it feels incredible to be not only on the right side of history but the right side of the law," she said. "Amazon tried to silence workers and it hasn't worked. We're actually stronger than ever. Organizing continues to grow at Amazon."

The board's decision comes as public scrutiny on Amazon is at an all-time high. In Bessemer, Alabama, thousands of Amazon workers are voting on whether to form a union, which would be the largest labor threat the company's management has ever been faced with. If the union effort comes to fruition, it may serve as a point of inspiration for other labor movements to follow suit throughout the nation.


By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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