The agency that oversees US labour laws says Amazon illegally fired two of its most outspoken employees last year after they repeatedly raised concerns about the company’s environmental and Covid safety practices.
Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa were given pink slips after the two started advocating for better working conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the US National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) said.
The board has told Ms Cunningham and Ms Costa that it will file a case of unfair labour practices against the online retailer if Amazon refuses to settle the case. Ms Cunningham told the New York Times: “It’s a moral victory and really shows that we are on the right side of history and the right side of the law.”
Amazon, meanwhile, has maintained that it fired the two employees for violating the company’s internal policies.
The two women had been among the many Amazon employees last year who had approached the labour board and told them about their pandemic safety concerns.
The agency has suggested that it may launch a national investigation into the company in the wake of the two women’s case, and given prominent media coverage of labour practices at Amazon.
Ms Cunningham and Ms Costa started publicly criticising Amazon in 2018. They had started a petition to demand that the company do more to address its climate impact. The group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, mustered about 8,700 members in support of the cause.
The two women worked as user experience designers at the company’s Seattle headquarters.
In 2018, both were told by the company that they had violated the internal communications policy by speaking out publicly. However, the two recruited about 400 other employees soon afterwards to join them in speaking publicly about their concerns with the company as well.
Ms Cunningham and Ms Costa also started raising safety concerns during the pandemic in Amazon warehouses. They had planned a call between Amazon warehouse and office workers to talk about their allegedly unsafe working conditions. The two were fired in April just before the call could take place.
Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokesperson, said in a statement: “We support every employee’s right to criticise their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful.”
In a statement, Ms Costa said: “I don’t regret standing up with my co-workers. This is about human lives, and the future of humanity.”
In a recent tweet, she had said: “Getting fired from Amazon is one of the most meaningful things that has ever happened to me because of the priceless solidarity of countless others in Amazon Employees for Climate Justice who had our back, who have spoken out, walked out, and continue to do so.”
She added: “Demanding our corporations behave as well as any good citizen, is not only reasonable, it is necessary—and should never result in retaliation or be career limiting.”
Ms Cunningham also tweeted saying that: “When thousands of workers come together, we make BIG CHANGE possible.” She called Ms Costa “a sister to me now, and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to be in the struggle with. Solidarity!”
Meanwhile, Amazon is also waiting to hear from their Bessemer, Alabama warehouse workers on the matter of unionising, with votes currently being counted. The vote could lead to the first unionised Amazon facility in the country.
This isn’t the first time the national labour agency has sided with Amazon workers. Last year, one Jonathan Bailey, a co-founder of a labour advocacy group Amazonians United, had staged a walkout at Amazon’s Queens warehouse. Mr Bailey said that the company broke the law when it interrogated him after the walkout.