The National Labor Relations Board sued Amazon in federal court on Thursday, asking a judge to force the company to swiftly rectify what it called “flagrant unfair labor practices” before workers at one of its Staten Island warehouses begin voting in a union election next week.
The case, filed in the Eastern District of New York, involves a former Amazon employee, Gerald Bryson, whom Amazon fired early in the pandemic after he was involved in a protest over safety concerns at the warehouse, known as JFK8. The company said Mr. Bryson had violated its policy against vulgar and harassing language during a confrontation with another worker in the protest, but the labor agency’s staff determined that his firing was illegal retaliation for Mr. Bryson’s workplace organizing.
The case has stretched on for almost two years in the agency’s administrative court process, with long fights over issues such as what evidence is admissible. Though an administrative law judge has not yet ruled in the case, the labor agency argued that a federal judge should force Amazon to make changes immediately, given the union election and Mr. Bryson’s involvement with the organizing. Voting is set to start next Friday.
If immediate injunctive relief is not provided, the board argued in its complaint, Amazon’s employees “will inevitably conclude that the board cannot effectively protect their rights” under federal labor law.
The agency said the judge should require Amazon to immediately give Mr. Bryson his job back, post notices at the facility and read aloud a statement of worker rights at mandatory employee meetings.
“No matter how large the employer, it is important for workers to know their rights — particularly during a union election — and that the N.L.R.B. will vociferously defend them,” said Kathy Drew King, the agency director who oversees the regional office bringing the suit, in a statement.
Amazon questioned the timing of the filing and the agency’s reasoning.
“It’s noteworthy that the N.L.R.B. is pursuing an ‘emergency injunction’ right before an election when they’ve known the facts in this case for over 18 months,” a company spokesperson, Kelly Nantel, said. “And it’s confusing that they’re fighting to protect behavior that no employer or co-worker should have to tolerate: Mr. Bryson was broadcast live on social media, bullying, cursing at and defaming a female co-worker over a bullhorn.”
In filings before the administrative law judge, the labor agency argued that Amazon had disparately applied its policies against Mr. Bryson in retaliation for his protests.
Amazon said in its filings that it had conducted a thorough investigation in good faith before firing Mr. Bryson.
The recent filings revealed that a recording captured most of the altercation between Mr. Bryson, who is Black, and the female employee, who is white. Both used crude language in the recording, though the detailed account the agency provided showed that the woman had initiated many of the comments and tried multiple times to persuade Mr. Bryson to fight her, which he did not do.
Mr. Bryson was fired, but the woman received a “first warning.”