On Monday, reports circulated that two Amazon workers were illegally fired after raising concerns about the shopping giant's labor practices. According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Amazon fired former user experience designers Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa last April for “repeatedly violating internal policies.” However, both have maintained that they were let go after publicly criticizing the company for not doing enough to combat climate change, as well as criticizing its questionable warehouse conditions and labor practices.
After being terminated, the two filed claims of unfair labor practices against the company in October and they have finally come to fruition. The NLRB has since concluded that there is enough evidence to support those claims and it plans to file a case against Amazon unless a settlement is reached.
According to Cunningham, this is “a moral victory and really shows that we are on the right side of history and the right side of the law.” While working at Amazon, Cunningham and Costa were members of the internal advocacy group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. The group attempted to push the company to create more structural plans to combat climate change. It also worked against the unfair treatment of warehouse workers and the lack of safety precautions in Amazon warehouses.
After taking stances on both issues, Cunningham and Costa pressured the company to change the way it responded to Amazon workers who spoke out against its policies. (At the time, employees were not allowed to publicly say anything negative about Amazon without written permission from management.) The two women later said they believe that making their concerns public — and having a hand in planning one of the 2020 Amazon walkouts for employees — led to their termination.
Amazon spokesperson Jaci Anderson, however, says that this isn’t true, and that Cunningham and Costa were let go for violating internal policies — not speaking out against the company. “We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful,” Anderson told The New York Times. “We terminated these employees not for talking publicly about working conditions, safety, or sustainability but, rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies.”
This news comes after ongoing backlash over the company's treatment of workers that has resulted in mass protests and strikes. Amazon is currently facing criticism for its working conditions during the pandemic, including an outright lack of safety measures, like PPE, and ending hazard pay. Last week, the company was scrutinized for not answering to reports that delivery drivers and some factory workers were forced to urinate in water bottles in an effort to deliver packages on time or when bathrooms were inaccessible.
Employees at the Amazon fulfillment center in Alabama have recently made headlines for attempting to unionize; the move would better protect them during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But the company has been accused of union-busting tactics, and President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders have stepped in to voice their concerns.
"All I want to know is why the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, is spending millions trying to prevent workers from organizing a union so they can negotiate for better wages, benefits, and working conditions," Sanders tweeted.
In a statement to Refinery29, an Amazon spokesperson said: “We disagree with these preliminary findings. We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful. We terminated these employees not for the reasons cited in the preliminary finding, but because they repeatedly violated internal policies.”