Amazon settlement with labour board paves way for workers’ union

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Amazon has reached an agreement with the National Labor Relations Board that could pave the way for its nearly 1m US employees to form a union.

The agreement, finalised on Wednesday and first reported by The New York Times, requires America’s second-largest employer to notify all of its employees that they have the right to organise with colleagues without interference.

“This is historic,” said Seth Goldstein, a pro-bono attorney helping the Amazon workers.

He predicted that Amazon would have to send notifications of workers’ rights to more than 1.5m people, because “it’s not just the people working there now — Amazon has a burn rate of more than 100 per cent a year, so all those people that hate Amazon and were terminated in the last nine months will have to be notified too”.

The agreement settled six “charges” from two regions, Chicago and New York, alleging the tech group limited their workers’ ability to organise.

Connor Spence, an Amazon employee and one of the lead organisers in Staten Island, said it felt “incredible” to play a role in one of the largest NLRB settlements in American history.

“It’s no secret Amazon’s a very anti-union company,” he said. “They’re just not afraid of labour laws at all and they have done a lot to kind of interfere with our organising.”

An Amazon spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

Spence said he had filed numerous complaints against Amazon policies that blocked workers from being in the building 15 minutes before or after a shift.

Another policy, he said, prevented employees from talking to others in the parking lot. But enforcement of the policies were selectively applied to workers that were attempting to form a union and in one instance, Amazon security threatened to call the police due to his organising efforts.

“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,” said Jennifer Abruzzo, NLRB general counsel.

Amazon must send a notice to employees informing them they have the right to “form, join, or assist a union”, and pledges that the company “will not do anything to prevent you from exercising [your] rights.” 

Michael Duff, a former attorney at the NLRB, called the language in the settlement “tough”, but added that it was not a commitment that “Amazon will conduct itself in a particular way here and after into the future”.

“This makes it easier for a regional office in the future to find a violation on similar conduct . . . but the NLRB doesn’t have the authority to reach any kind of agreement, with any charged employer, with respect to conduct that doesn’t fall within the parameters of these charges.”

Spence, too, expressed some concern that the settlement may prove limited.

“Amazon is not supposed to retaliate, but what they’ll do in actuality is a different story,” he said. “So I don’t think it’s a silver bullet because labour laws in this country are still very weak. A notice will only get us so much.”

He added: “I wish there was more of a monetary penalty for Amazon, but this is the best route under our current labour laws . . . and it’s really going to hurt Amazon’s anti-union culture by having to tell every single worker that they do have a right to organise.”

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