A federal court has ordered Amazon to stop punishing employees who participate in workplace activism, in a mixed verdict that also resulted in a setback for the federal labor bureau, which sued the business earlier this year.
The decision was made in a court case filed by the National Labor Board, which sued in March for the reinstatement of a dismissed Amazon employee who was active in organizing a corporate warehouse on Staten Island, NY.
The agency stated in its lawsuit that Amazon’s firing of the former employee, Gerald Bryson, was illegal and would restrict organizing. It claimed that not restoring Bryson to his position would lead workers to believe that the agency would be unable to safeguard their labor rights under federal law.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Diane Gujarati concluded that there was “reasonable cause” to think that Amazon engaged in an unfair labor practice by terminating Bryson. She sent a cease-and-desist order, instructing the Seattle-based corporation not to penalize employees who participated in workplace activism.
Gujarati, however, dismissed the agency’s plea to restore Bryson. She determined that the NLRB failed to present evidence that Bryson’s termination is having a significant impact on employee organizing efforts or the Amazon Labor Union, the nascent group associated with Bryson that ultimately won the first-ever labor victory at an Amazon warehouse in the United States in March.
Gujarati also emphasized in her judgment that Bryson was dismissed before the union was founded, distinguishing this case from others in which there was a slowdown in organizing support following the termination of a union activist.
Bryson was dismissed in April 2020, just weeks after protesting working conditions during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. He got into an argument with another employee while off the job during a second protest. Amazon conducted its own investigation into the incident and terminated Bryson due to a breach of the company’s vulgar-language policy. The corporation disputes that the termination was related to its organizing efforts.
Bryson filed a complaint with the NLRB shortly after being dismissed. Earlier this year, an administrative law judge determined that the corporation conducted a “skewed probe” into the issue in order to blame Bryson. Amazon has stated that it would file an administrative appeal with the NLRB. The court’s decision on Friday stemmed from a separate federal complaint filed by the agency, which lacks enforcement authority.
Gujarati ordered Amazon to publish copies of the court decision in English and Spanish at the Staten Island site that voted to unionize on Friday. She also directed that electronic copies be sent to staff and that an obligatory meeting be held during which the order be read aloud.