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Amazon CEO’s comments ‘threatened employees,’ NLRB judge says

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Dive Brief:

  • The National Labor Relations Board ruled May 1 that Amazon CEO Andy Jassy’s comments about Amazon workers and their union activity violated the National Labor Relations Act. The ruling resolved charges initially filed in 2022 and consolidated in February.
  • Following a Staten Island, New York, Amazon warehouse contingent’s 2021 request to be recognized as a union, Jassy made discouraging comments on the CNBC talk show “Squawk Box” the next spring. The board also cited Jassy’s comments at a Bloomberg technology conference and at The New York Times’ DealBook summit as violations of the National Labor Relations Act
  • “I find that Jassy’s comments threatened employees that, if they selected a union, they would become less empowered and would find it harder to get things done quickly,” administrative law judge Brian D. Gee said in the ruling.

Dive Insight:

Andy Jassy’s April 2022 CNBC interview is one of three interviews at the center of the discourse. Among the comments cited in the case, Jassy notably said, “You know, first of all, of course, it’s … employees’ choice whether or not they want to join a union. We happen to think they’re better off not doing so for a couple of reasons at least.” He added that Amazon is a workplace that “empowers employees” to talk about work-related issues and come up with actionable solutions.

“That type of empowerment doesn’t happen when you have unions. It’s much more bureaucratic, it’s much slower. I also think people are better off having direct connections with their managers,” Jassy continued.

The NLRB’s ruling may serve as a cautionary tale for those responding to workers’ requests to unionize.

While Gee noted that “employer predictions about the loss of a direct employee-employer relationship” are lawful, Jassy’s comments that Amazon workers would be better off without a union were paired with “coercive predictions about the effects of unionization,” he said. 

“Under these circumstances, employees could have reasonably understood Jassy to be saying that, without a union, they would be more empowered and could achieve improvements at work faster and with less bureaucracy,” he wrote — two suggestions that are “unsupported by objective fact.” 

As unionization efforts at the company have ramped up in recent years, Amazon has contended with a number of NLRA charges. Last year, the NLRB ruled that the e-commerce giant unlawfully retaliated against Staten Island-based workers at the JFK8 fulfillment center and DYY6 delivery station. Before, the agency also called for an Amazon worker union election do-over.

Still, Jeff Bezos’ company is far from the only big-name employer to recently be reprimanded by the NLRB. Last March, an administrative law judge found that Starbucks violated the NLRA “hundreds of times” through “egregious and widespread misconduct” against organizing employees in Buffalo, New York. Starbucks has seen one of the fastest-growing union efforts in recent years.

SpaceX is another one: In March 2024, the NLRB alleged that the company illegally fired an employee for participating in union activities, and illegally forced employees to sign an arbitration and dispute resolution agreement. Earlier in the year, an NLRB complaint alleged that SpaceX workers had been unlawfully fired for signing an open letter against company CEO Elon Musk.

Several of these embattled companies have fought back. SpaceX and Amazon, for example, have argued in legal filings that the NLRB itself is “unconstitutional.”

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