Amazon lays off two employees linked to the Staten Island union effort
Workers line up to vote for a union election at Amazon’s JFK8 fulfillment center in the Staten Island borough of New York, United States, March 25, 2022.
Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters
Amazon fired two employees linked to a union drive that resulted in the company’s first unionized warehouse in the United States
Mat Cusick and Tristan Dutchin told CNBC they were fired by Amazon in recent days. Cusick and Dutchin both worked with the Amazon Labor Union, an upstart group led by current and former company employees, to organize workers at the e-commerce giant’s Staten Island warehouses in New York.
The ALU scored a historic victory last month when workers at Amazon’s largest warehouse in New York, known as JFK8, voted to join the union. The ALU had hoped to replicate its success at a smaller facility nearby, called LDJ5, but the site rejected unionization last week. Still, the win at JFK8 spurred organizing efforts at other Amazon warehouses, and the ALU received high-profile recognition, including from President Joe Biden.
Dutchin, who worked as a package picker at JFK8 for nearly a year, said he was fired on Saturday after finishing his shift. Amazon told him he hadn’t met the company’s productivity goals, which require employees to pick hundreds of packages per hour.
Dutchin said he previously received warnings from Amazon about his performance, but has since received additional training. Dutchin said his manager even recently praised him for his improved performance.
Cusick, who is ALU’s communications director, said he was made redundant last week after taking “Covid care leave”, which allows employees to care for family members who are sick with Covid- 19.
A woman holds a sign as Amazon and union workers attend a rally outside the company building on April 24, 2022, in the Staten Island borough of New York.
Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images
An employee in Amazon’s human resources department allowed him to go on leave until April 29, Cusick said. But on April 30, he received an email from Amazon telling him he had been off work for three days, which was grounds for dismissal, Cusick said.
The next day, Cusick, who sorted packages for delivery at an Amazon facility called DYY6 near JFK8, discovered he had been kicked out of Amazon’s internal employee portal.
“I called the ERC,” Cusick said, referring to the Employee Resource Center, “and I said, ‘What’s going on, it looks like I’ve been fired. “”
“I think the first person may have said I wasn’t fired,” he said. the world had a different view of what was going on. “
On May 4, Cusick received a letter from Amazon informing him that he had been terminated “due to job abandonment,” according to a copy of the letter viewed by CNBC.
Amazon’s employee HR systems have come under scrutiny in the past. Investigations by The New York Times and Bloomberg have identified issues with the heavily automated system, which has struggled to keep pace with the company’s rapidly growing workforce, especially during the pandemic. of coronavirus.
Cusick described his dismissal as “an automated termination.”
“Amazon’s systems are almost entirely digital,” Cusick said. “I’ve been kicked out of the system where all this material is stored. I’m kicked out of the building, so I can’t even go into the building where I work to talk to the people inside.”
Vice earlier reported the layoffs. Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said Cusick and Dutchin’s cases were unrelated to each other and denied being fired in retaliation for their organization with ALU.
“We work hard to meet the needs of our team, but like any employer, we ask our employees to meet certain minimum expectations and take appropriate action when they are unable to do so,” Nantel said. .
“They pay attention to this stuff”
Amazon has previously fired employees who openly criticized the company’s labor practices, including Chris Smalls, the president of ALU. Amazon was recently ordered to reinstate JFK8 employee Gerald Bryson after a judge found the company ‘unlawfully’ fired him two years ago for participating in a protest. against the pandemic.
“I did interviews, I attended rallies,” Dutchin said. “Me being in the ALU and making national headlines, they pay attention to that stuff.”
The union victory at JFK8 was a major victory for labor groups, which have sought to organize Amazon facilities for several years. For the ALU, the challenges are not over as it must now attempt to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with Amazon, which has already sought to delay a contract by challenging the election result in court.
In addition to firing an organizer from JFK8, the company has also made changes to the site’s top ranks in recent days.
Amazon fired at least half a dozen senior JFK8 executives last week, The New York Times reported. Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the layoffs were the result of weeks of “operations and leadership” assessments at JFK8. But the fired executives saw the move as a response to the recent union victory, according to the Times.
While Amazon may be legally allowed to fire managers who aren’t part of the bargaining unit, the company could face a new fight from the National Labor Relations Board for firing union organizers, a said Tom Kochan, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
“It’s clearly immoral and a violation of the law to fire union organizers, but it can pay off for the company to do so because the penalties are so low,” Kochan said. “It is also very difficult to apply the law to prove that the worker was fired for union activity, rather than not showing up on time or doing their job effectively.”
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