Amazonians United says Amazon fired Maryland workers for union activity

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An independent task force alleges that Amazon unlawfully fired two employees of a Prince George’s County facility for “advocating for the rights” of their co-workers, the group said in charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board this week. last.

Amazonians United – a grassroots organization that has also organized in warehouses in Sacramento, Chicago and New York – said workers at the DMD9 delivery station in Upper Marlboro were fired for their role in collecting signatures for two petitions and encouraging others to participate in a walkout in March.

Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a statement to The Washington Post that the allegations were baseless. “Whether an employee supports a certain cause or a certain group does not factor into the difficult decision of whether or not to let someone go,” she added.

The group’s charges, however, are the latest evidence of a growing labor movement at Amazon facilities nationwide, fueled by a historic unionization vote at one of the company’s Staten Island warehouses. Amazon – whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Post – is fighting to overturn the results of this election.

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The fight in Prince George’s is taking place about 20 miles from the Virginia site where Amazon is building its second headquarters, and that push has occasionally followed an unorthodox playbook. While Staten Island, NY’s vote was the result of traditional labor campaigning — organizers sought to collect union cards to trigger an election — Amazonians United instead sought to pressure the company with petitions and walkouts in Maryland and elsewhere.

It’s a strategy that could accelerate change within the company, given that no union vote — or a months-long bureaucratic struggle with Amazon over that vote — stands against Amazonians United. But now the group alleges that Amazon, the country’s second-largest private employer, is violating labor laws by firing some of the top executives behind its protests.

“They want to separate us. They want us to be afraid. They don’t want workers getting together to talk about how they think certain things are wrong,’ said Jackie Davis, one of the laid off employees at Prince George’s, who is seeking rehiring with back pay. . “If they divide us, there is no more unity.”

Nantel, the Amazon spokeswoman, said the company will show “through the proper process” that Amazonians United’s allegations are unfounded. “Like any business, we have basic expectations of employees at all levels and in these cases those expectations have not been met,” she added.

Davis, 22, said she was first hired to sort packages in June 2021 at the DMD9 delivery station, which employs around 120 people and serves as the last stop for Amazon deliveries before they are dropped off at DC area gateways. All entry level employees work early in the morning, from 1:20 a.m. to 11:50 a.m.

She quickly became involved in the Amazonians United effort and quickly became one of the group’s most effective canvassers in Maryland. While she was excited about Amazon’s programs that would teach her to code and advance in the company, she was also frustrated with issues at the facility, she said, such as inaccessibility managers and the absence of an HR person capable of answering his questions.

Major organizing drives by established unions, like the one in Bessemer, Alabama, have drawn attention to their efforts to get Amazon workers to sign union cards. In Staten Island, an independent group, the Amazon Labor Union, launched a similar campaign for a formal union election, winning a surprise victory in April.

Amazonians United has expressed support for both campaigns. But rather than adopt the same tactic, Davis and other organizers focused on build relationships and build support in the shop, sometimes coordinating with other warehouses across the country. She would come to work early to hand out union flyers outside the delivery station, she said, or call co-workers in her spare time.

Davis and the group submitted a petition with 50 signatures to Maryland delivery station management last August, calling for healthier food options in the break room, at least one day’s notice for schedule changes and safety requirements such as greater flexibility to take bathroom breaks. “We are humans, not robots!” they stated in the petition.

A subsequent meeting with facility management resulted in a number of concrete changes: in addition to healthier eating, employees were granted a more flexible toilet break policy, ergonomic mats at certain workstations work and free shuttles from the Largo metro station, organizers said.

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The petition is an example of how Amazonians United’s strategy has resulted in material gains. In another case, he won access to paid sick leave for temporary workers in California.

In December, the group submitted additional demands. Amazon had given hourly wage increases of around $2-$3 during the company’s busiest months at some other facilities, but not at DMD9. And although the company extended breaks by 15 to 20 minutes during the coronavirus pandemic, delivery station officials reversed that decision ahead of the holiday rush, known as “peak season”.

Amazonians United again delivered a petition to local management, along with five other warehouses in or around New York. When the company didn’t budge, they all staged coordinated walkouts in March: Dozens of workers left the facility on their predawn lunch break, leaving managers to cover for them.

Davis was fired a few weeks later. Although she maintains that her managers gave her no clear or justifiable explanation, Nantel, the Amazon spokeswoman, said Davis “was terminated due to time theft and was not sure place despite the score”.

Her petition to the NLRB, which was filed on June 14 and shared with The Post, claims that Amazon “retaliated” against her by “terminating her for engaging in protected concerted activity and advocating for the rights of her colleagues.”

“Amazon is fully aware that their actions violate our right to organize at work, which is why the company has turned to false accusations and sleazy excuses to justify firing the walkout leaders,” Amazonians United said. in a press release.

The union group also filed “unfair labor practice” charges for New York-area warehouse workers who were fired after participating in walkouts. The NLRB will review all charges to determine if they have merit.

In Maryland, Davis said her case stands in particular contrast to white-collar business leaders beginning to fill positions in new offices in Arlington County, at the other end of the Metro Blue Line.

“I really feel sorry for them,” she said, “that they’re so selfish not to work with the employees.”

Caroline O’Donovan of San Francisco contributed to this report.

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