'This is a big deal': Amazon settlement with NLRB could ease worker unionization efforts

'This is a big deal': Amazon settlement with NLRB could ease worker unionization efforts
Amazon/Shutterstock
Amazon/Shutterstock

As Amazon faces growing criticism over working conditions and its response to employee organizing, the online retail giant this week finalized a settlement with a federal labor agency that's expected to make it easier for workers in the United States to unionize.

"This is a big deal," Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021 tweeted Thursday.

The union shared The New York Times' reporting on Amazon's agreement with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is the result of six cases of workers saying the company limited their organizing abilities.

According to the Times, which obtained a copy of the agreement via a public records request:

Under the settlement, which was finalized on Wednesday, Amazon said it would email past and current warehouse workers—likely more than one million people—with notifications of their rights and would give them greater flexibility to organize in its buildings. The agreement also made it easier and faster for the NLRB, which investigates claims of unfair labor practices, to sue Amazon if it believed the company violated the terms.
Amazon has previously settled individual cases with the labor agency, but the new settlement's national scope and its concessions to organizing go further than any previous agreement.
Because of Amazon's sheer size—more than 750,000 people work in its operations in the United States alone—the agency said the settlement would reach one of the largest groups of workers in its history. The tech giant also agreed to terms that would let the NLRB bypass an administrative hearing process, a lengthy and cumbersome undertaking, if the agency found the company did not abide by the settlement.

While Amazon declined to comment to the newspaper, Jennifer Abruzzo, the NLRB's new general counsel appointed by President Joe Biden, said in a statement Thursday that "this settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action."

VICE labor reporter Lauren Kaori Gurley highlighted that Amazon revoking its ban on workers being in break rooms or parking lots longer than 15 minutes before or after their shifts "could make labor organizing a lot easier."

No Amazon workers at facilities in the United States are formally unionized yet. However, the new deal was reached Wednesday as employees at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse refiled a petition to hold a union vote about a month after withdrawing their initial effort.

Those New York City workers aren't the only U.S. Amazon employees organizing. An NLRB regional director last month ordered a new union vote at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama following allegations that Amazon illegally interfered with a failed election earlier this year. That facility was the focus of a Wednesday video raising alarm about worker deaths.

Daniel Gross, co-author of the book Labor Law for the Rank & Filer, noted that the agreement also came as Amazon workers at two Illinois delivery stations—one in Chicago's Gage Park neighborhood and another in the suburb Cicero—participated in the company's first multi-site work stoppage.

"Why did we walk out at Amazon's DLN2 Cicero delivery station? Because we're tired of being overworked for shit pay," Amazonians United Chicagoland tweeted about the Wednesday action. "We're fed up with management's lies. We know Amazon doesn't care about us, all they care about is us moving packages."

Ted Miin, a sortation associate and Amazonians United member at the Gage Park facility, told Chicago-based In These Times that "we've been underpaid, overworked, and also unsafely staffed going on months now."

"We've tried to raise these issues with management, but they've effectively dismissed our concerns," Miin said, pointing to a recent staff petition demanding a $3‑per-hour raise and safe staffing. "They're not taking us seriously, so we're walking out."

The walkout came after six Amazon workers were killed at a warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois earlier this month when a tornado caused a partial collapse, which has led to calls for safety reforms, including for workers to be allowed to keep their cellphones with them in case of emergencies.

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