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Amazon settles with employees who said they were fired over activism


Environmentalists protesting outside Amazon’s shareholder meeting

Paayal Zaveri | CNBC

Amazon settled with two former employees who the National Labor Relations Board claimed were illegally fired for publicly speaking out about the company’s climate record and labor policies.

Amazon reached a settlement with Maren Costa (employee) but the terms weren’t disclosed immediately. The settlement was announced by NLRB Administrative Law Judge John Giannopoulos at a virtual hearing, where Giannopoulos was expected to review the NLRB’s complaint.

Amazon did not respond to our request for comment. James McGuinness from the Seattle chapter United Food and Commercial Workers Union filed the NLRB lawsuit on behalf Cunningham and Costa. McGuinness couldn’t reach him immediately for comment.

Earlier this year, the NLRB found Amazon illegally retaliated against Cunningham and Costa when it fired them in April of 2020. Amazon had previously stated that it did not agree with the NLRB findings and claimed it fired Costa, Cunningham and others for repeatedly violating its internal policies.

Costa and Cunningham complained to the NLRB in October that Amazon fired them for “discriminatory enforcement of its communication and non-solicitation policies.” The latter prohibits employees speaking negatively about Amazon without permission from their managers.

Amazon has reached a settlement to avoid what could have been an extremely long trial with witnesses and dissections of how it treated employees. Amazon may have needed to rehire Cunningham, Costa, or give them back pay if they had sided against the workers.

Cunningham, Costa and other user experience designers worked for Amazon in Seattle over 15 years. Cunningham and Costa became vocal critics about Amazon’s climate policy in 2018. They founded an employee advocacy organization that has called on the company for a reduction of its effects on climate change. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice gained more than 8,700 members and prompted more than 1,500 people to march out against Amazon’s climate policies.

Cunningham and Costa expressed concern about Amazon’s treatment warehouse workers in the wake of the pandemic. Both of them shared a petition from warehouse workers advocating for more coronavirus protections and their employee advocacy group planned an internal event allowing Amazon tech workers and warehouse employees to discuss workplace conditions.

Amazon is being scrutinized more by outside organizations and employees for its labor practices. During the pandemic, delivery and warehouse workers raised concerns about the safety of their front-line workers. Increasing numbers of workers have also filed complaints to the NLRB alleging unfair labor practices.

Cunningham’s and Costa’s dismissal in April triggered immediate protests. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Vice President Kamala Harris, then a California senator, joined other lawmakers in writing to Amazon asking for more information about their firing.

Tim Bray, a prominent engineer and a former vice president at Amazon, resigned in protest last May. Bray claimed he had “snapped” upon learning about the firings. He also said that being at Amazon would have been “signing up for actions I loathe.”

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