Amazon committed unfair business practices at a Staten Island facility that voted to unionize earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Diane Gujarati of the Eastern District of New York ruled on Friday. The company must cease and desist from firing workers who engage in protected activity and from “interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed” to them by labor law, Gujarati wrote.
However, she declined to reinstate Gerald Bryson, an employee who was fired after advocating for better protections against COVID-19 at the Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, according to court documents.
Neither Amazon nor the Amazon Labor Union, which successfully unionized the facility, immediately returned requests for comment on the mixed decision.
Judge Gujarati’s determination not only requires Amazon to cease and desist firing employees who participate in protected activities but also to post and read aloud her ruling at the JFK8 warehouse.
Her refusal to give Bryson his job back runs counter to a decision from an NLRB administrative law judge, however. Judge Benjamin Green in April reinstated Bryson with back pay, ruling that his dismissal was a form of retaliation. In May Amazon appealed, and the matter is now before a five-member NLRB appellate panel. On Friday, Gujarati said there’s no evidence “that Bryson’s termination continues to have any appreciable effect on the ALU’s efforts or on employee willingness to engage in protected concerted activity.”
“Furthermore, given that Bryson was terminated approximately one year before the ALU was formed, this case is distinguishable from cases where union activists were terminated contemporaneous with their union activity and a diminution of union support was shown to exist following the termination,” she also said.
That makes little sense, and Bryson is likely to regain his post after the NLRB panel rules, according to Ellen Dichner, a professor at the City University of New York’s School of Labor & Urban Studies.
“Judge Green found very, very firmly that there was an unfair labor practice and recommended immediate reinstatement,” she said by phone.
The NLRB process runs independently of the district court, Dichner said. Amazon could appeal Gujarati’s finding that its actions run afoul of labor law, she noted. The e-commerce giant didn’t immediately reply to a question about whether it would.
“I have to tell you, I don't understand this decision,” Dichner said of the district court. “Generally, if a judge finds reasonable cause and orders a cease and desist, there's an understanding of the law that when it's known to employees that one of the major activists was fired for engaging in concerted activity over health and safety conditions or in support of the union, that chills the exercise of rights by other employees. Employees react to discharges of activists. They may even vote yes for the union, but they're not going to stand out as open activists out of fear the same thing could happen to them.”
In a historic vote in April labor organizers prevailed at the JFK8 facility, a victory the e-commerce giant tried and failed to overturn. Amazon has overcome most union votes at its facilities so far, however. The law provides leeway for companies to educate their workers about what they believe will occur if they organize, and last year Amazon paid consultants nearly $4.3 million in cash to help it defeat such efforts.
But the company has also crossed the line, according to the NLRB. Last month, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy was summoned to appear before the agency in February after he stated in media interviews that joining a union would disadvantage employees and that their relationships with supervisors are better when they’re not part of a union. Those comments amount to “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed” under federal labor law, according to an Oct. 25 letter to Jassy from NLRB Regional Director Ronald Hooks.