An Amazon Labor Union organizer

An Amazon Labor Union organizer holds a sign as he raises his fist outside of the LDJ5 Amazon Sort Center on April 25, 2022 in New York City.

(Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

NLRB Says Amazon Illegally Union-Busted by Limiting Worker Access to Warehouses

"People should be outraged that Amazon feels that the law doesn't apply to them," said a lawyer for the Amazon Labor Union.

The Amazon Labor Union celebrated Wednesday as a lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board in Brooklyn determined that Amazon acted illegally when it adopted a rule barring warehouse workers from being present at their workplace when they were not scheduled to work—a transparent effort, the board said, to limit union activity.

The company reached a settlement in 2021 with the NLRB, agreeing to notify workers of their right to form a union and to organize on company property.

Organizers with the ALU say the settlement was crucial in allowing off-duty workers to engage with their colleagues as they prepared to vote on unionizing—a vote that they ultimately won on April 1, 2022 in a result that one labor reporter called a "tremendous upset."

As the union prepared to vote last year, said Christian Smalls, a co-founder of the ALU and former Amazon employee, on Wednesday, "we were allowed to organize in the break room, feed the workers, feed our colleagues, let them know that we're building a culture that's here to represent the workers."

"Unfortunately, after our victory Amazon rolled a policy out that allowed no access to the building, meaning workers cannot report before or afterwards unless they're scheduled for shifts," he added. "We weren't allowed to organize because they were targeting us, retaliating, firing, writing people up."

The new policy, introduced last summer, barred workers from being in the building 15 minutes before or after their scheduled shift. The ALU says it made it more difficult for the union to engage with workers and enlist them to help pressure Amazon to bargain with them.

The company has claimed that it instituted the off-duty access rule only as a security measure and applied the rule fairly.

"The employer violated the [National Labor Relations] Act in implementing its off-duty access rule at the end of June in response to union activity," said the NLRB in a letter to the ALU. "The off-duty access rule has further been applied discriminatorily as relates to the disciplines pursuant to the rule which have been issued for union activity."

The board's announcement that it found merit in the ALU's charges regarding the rule could be "a precursor to the agency issuing a complaint or taking other formal actions," Bloomberg Lawreported.

"People should be outraged that Amazon feels that the law doesn't apply to them," Seth Goldstein, an attorney who represents the ALU, told Bloomberg Law.

"Workers can't organize if they don't have access to the break rooms and non-work areas before or after work, and the board recognizes that, and they're going to hold Amazon accountable," Goldstein told Law360.

The NLRB also said Wednesday that Amazon has illegally refused to bargain with the ALU nearly a year after the union won its election. The company is appealing the election outcome to the board, even though it was certified by regional officials earlier this year.

Smalls expressed hope that the NLRB's decision regarding the off-duty access rule will make it easier for Amazon workers to organize across the United States.

"We're letting them know we're going back in the building, we're feeding our coworkers," he said, "not just here at [Staten Island warehouse] JFK8 but all across the nation."

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