Judge orders Amazon to reinstate fired worker and pay lost wages

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An administrative law judge has ordered Amazon to reinstate a worker it “illegally” fired in 2020 at a Staten Island warehouse that recently voted to unionize, and reimburse him for lost wages.

Gerald Bryson was fired after he was filmed insulting a co-worker during a protest, behavior Amazon called bullying. But in its decision on Monday, Judge Benjamin Green of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that the dismissal actually had more to do with his decision to protest coronavirus safety conditions within the company, qualified as a “protected activity” within the meaning of federal labor law. The other worker involved in the altercation received a written warning.

Amazon disagrees with the decision and will appeal, according to spokeswoman Kelly Nantel, who said she finds it surprising that the NLRB would want an employer to tolerate such behavior. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“Mr. Bryson was terminated for intimidating, insulting and defaming a co-worker over a megaphone outside the workplace,” Nantel wrote in an email. She also noted that the The incident was widely publicized on social media.

The demonstration would articulate with a grassroots labor movement led by Bryson, Christian Smalls and others.

Smalls led a protest in March 2020 while employed at the same warehouse. He was later fired for allegedly violating quarantine and social distancing guidelines, according to the NLRB ruling. Bryson’s protest took place a week later, on April 6. Both men accused Amazon of retaliation against them for their role in organizing workers, which resulted in a vote to unionize the Staten Island fulfillment center by a vote of 2,654 to 2,131.

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The union filed several charges of unfair labor practices alleging that Amazon engaged in anti-union activity at the warehouse.

The NLRB, in a separate case, accused Amazon in January of unlawfully surveilling and threatening workers on Staten Island. He alleged that a manager and a security guard had attempted to confiscate union literature placed in the company’s break room.

In other incidents, according to the NLRB, union officials and a consultant “questioned” employees about their organizing activities and called union organizers “thugs.” An Amazon spokesperson said the claims were false.

The NLRB also sued Amazon in federal court over Bryson’s case before voting began at the warehouse, seeking an injunction to reinstate him. A judge did not rule on the case. But Amazon used the NLRB lawsuit as the basis for an objection to the election results.

In its list of objections filed with the federal regulator, the company alleged that the agency’s Brooklyn-based regional office “gave the impression” that it supported the union by filing a lawsuit against Amazon before the vote.

“Delaying the filing of this complaint until the day before the election unduly influenced the perception of Amazon employees just days before they vote,” Amazon wrote in its objections.

At the time, the NLRB said all of its “enforcement actions against Amazon were consistent with (its) congressional mandate.”

Amazon is seeking to defeat the successful union vote by filing the objections, which the federal regulator will consider in a hearing.

Amazon filing outlines plans to fight NYC union vote

The judge’s ruling describes a chain of events in which another employee had an argument with Bryson, which was caught on video and posted on social media. Green came to the conclusion that Bryson had not pitched the argument and that the evidence presented in his case did not support the idea that he had engaged in conduct warranting dismissal.

In a transcript attached to the decision, the two people beak insults and insults towards each other. Bryson was fired after the altercation, while the woman was not.

Disciplinary records indicate that Amazon generally does not fire people who engage in conduct similar to Bryson’s, according to Green’s ruling.

“The record also contains considerable evidence that the reason given by the respondent for firing Bryson was merely a pretense for his true discriminatory motive,” read the judge’s opinion, noting that the investigation by the he company mostly focused on Bryson’s behavior while letting the other employee off the hook.

Rachel Lerman contributed to this report.

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