Nov 21, 2022
Progressives in the United States welcomed news that a federal judge on Friday filed a nationwide cease and desist order against Amazon, which stipulates that the e-commerce giant must stop firing workers for organizing and otherwise impeding their participation in pro-union activities.
The court order, filed in the Eastern District of New York by District Judge Diana Gujarati, instructs Amazon, the country's second-largest employer, to immediately stop "discharging employees because they engaged in protected concerted activity" and "in any like or related manner interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed to them by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act."
As VICEreported Monday:
The order was a response to a petition filed by Gerald Bryson, a former Amazon employee who in 2020 was fired for protesting the company's lack of safety protocols regarding Covid-19. Bryson worked at JFK8, the company's Staten Island warehouse which has since become famous as the first Amazon facility to successfully unionize, earlier this year. He had participated in multiple protests alongside then-worker Christian Smalls, who is now the president of the Amazon Labor Union.
At the time, the National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon had illegally retaliated against Bryson by terminating him, and demanded that it reinstate him. Judge Gujarati's order denied Bryson's request to get his job back because, it claimed, it would not have a significant effect on workers' willingness to organize.
Analilia Mejia and DaMareo Cooper, co-executive directors of the Center for Popular Democracy Action, applauded the court's decision to provide injunctive relief that protects Amazon workers across the United States from being terminated for engaging in legally protected workplace organizing while lamenting that the ruling "falls one step short" because it fails to reinstate Bryson.
"This decision is a massive victory for Amazon workers nationwide--protection from retaliation is especially important as those workers enter the grueling peak season in Amazon's warehouses," Mejia and Cooper said Monday in a statement. "Nonetheless, continuing to keep Gerald Bryson out of work at this point is a travesty of justice."
In addition to mandating that Amazon cease and desist from retaliatory dismissals of workplace organizers and other suppressive tactics that violate federal labor law, the court order also requires the immensely profitable corporation to publicly inform all of its JFK8 employees of their rights.
"The Center for Popular Democracy looks forward to the posting and public reading of the judge's order so that JFK8 workers will be notified of their federal rights and of their employer's unlawful actions," said Mejia and Cooper.
"Amazon continues to aggressively suppress worker organizing across the country, but now the NLRB has the added enforcement power of a federal court's cease and desist order," the pair added. "We will continue to fight for justice for Gerald and other Amazon workers nationwide and we urge the NLRB to continue pushing courts to grant injunctive relief for fired Amazon employees."
Amazon Labor Union (ALU) lawyer Seth Goldstein told VICE that the ruling is "of huge significance."
"This is a national cease and desist order," Goldstein explained. "That means that wherever in the country they violate it, theoretically the National Labor Relations Board can immediately seek a contempt of court order. A federal judge is not happy when a party violates their rule--there can be sanctions of all types."
The court order comes just weeks after Amazon suspended dozens of JFK8 workers who refused to return to the shop floor for a few hours due to health and safety concerns following a fire at the New York City fulfillment center.
Goldstein called Amazon's punitive response to last month's temporary work stoppage "a violation of workers' rights to join in a collective action about the terms and conditions of their employment."
The Staten Island facility has earned a reputation for egregious violations of workers' rights since it opened in September 2018. Data published earlier this year, for instance, shows that the fulfillment center's already above-average injury rate increased by 15% from 2020 to 2021.
Just days after the early October fire at JFK8, however, Amazon successfully defeated a unionization effort at the ALB1 warehouse in Albany. ALU has filed objections to the result, accusing Amazon of "coercive, threatening, and retaliatory conduct."
Regarding the new nationwide cease and desist order, Goldstein said that "it's broad, it's sweeping."
"No one has gotten that yet against Amazon," he added.
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