Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with commentary from Amazon.
A judge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Amazon illegally threatened to withhold raises and benefits from workers at two New York City warehouses if they voted to form a union. Administrative Law Judge Benjamin Green’s ruling concerns JFK8, which successfully unionized in April 2022, and LDJ5, which rejected its own union campaign in May 2022.
Green also found that Amazon violated federal labor law in 2021 by removing a post from an internal communications platform that asked workers to sign a union-backed petition to make Juneteenth a paid holiday. However, he chose not to rule on the NLRB general counsel’s effort to use the case to ban mandatory anti-union meetings on the grounds that administrative judges cannot set legal precedents, and dismissed other charges.
“We’re glad that the judge dismissed 19 — nearly all — of the allegations in this case and correctly called the three remaining ones ‘not obvious or clear cut,’” said Kelly Nantel, Amazon spokesperson in a statement. “The facts continue to show that the teams in our buildings work hard to do the right thing, and that most of the claims pushed by outside groups with an agenda are without merit.”
Amazon has been facing multiple legal challenges from the NLRB as warehouses across the ecommerce giant’s footprint continue to hold union votes. In November 2022, a federal judge ordered Amazon to stop retaliating against employees engaged in workplace activism due to the firing of a former employee at JFK8. Additionally, the NLRB has filed a complaint against CEO Andy Jassy regarding the potential violation of labor law in remarks discussing the company’s stance on unionization in interviews with CNBC and Bloomberg.
Amazon itself challenged the vote at JFK8, but the NLRB ruled that the retailer should recognize the organization. Amazon plans to appeal the decision because “we don’t believe this election process was fair, legitimate or representative of the majority of what our team wants,” according to Nantel.
The Department of Labor also has cited Amazon for additional Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations in multiple warehouses and proposed $46,875 in penalties. Facilities in Aurora, Colo.; Nampa, Idaho; and Castleton, N.Y. were the latest to be found to be in violation of the OSH Act’s general duty clause.
OSHA investigators found that workers at each warehouse were exposed to a high risk of low back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders, including:
- The high frequency with which employees must lift packages and other items;
- The heavy weight of the items handled by workers;
- Employees awkwardly twisting, bending and extending themselves to lift items; and
- Long hours required to complete assigned tasks.
The findings are in addition to similar citations filed at three different Amazon warehouses earlier in January. Amazon is planning on appealing these as well, which could result in up to $60,269 in proposed penalties.
“Amazon’s operating methods are creating hazardous work conditions and processes, leading to serious worker injuries,” said Doug Parker, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health in a statement. “They need to take these injuries seriously and implement a company-wide strategy to protect their employees from these well-known and preventable hazards.”
However, Amazon has stated that it already takes the necessary precautions to protect its workers and is putting in the effort to further improve operations.
“We take the safety and health of our employees very seriously, and we don’t believe the government’s allegations reflect the reality of safety at our sites,” said Nantel. “We’ve cooperated with the government through its investigation and have demonstrated how we work to mitigate risks and keep our people safe, and our publicly available data show we reduced injury rates in the U.S. nearly 15% between 2019 and 2021. We also know there will always be more to do, and we’ll continue working to get better every day.”