Amazon illegally fired last year two of its corporate employees who had been vocal critics of the company, the National Labor Relations Board has found.
The employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, organized workers around climate action and warehouse conditions during the pandemic before their firings in April 2020.
The federal agency said it would issue a complaint if the case was not settled, according to The New York Times, which first reported the news Monday. The NLRB confirmed the finding to CNN Business.
Cunningham told CNN Business Monday that she “couldn’t be more happy with the news today.”
“It is a moral victory and it feels incredible to be not only on the right side of history but the right side of the law,” she said. “Amazon tried to silence workers and it hasn’t worked. We’re actually stronger than ever. Organizing continues to grow at Amazon.”
Meanwhile, Amazon (AMZN) appeared to defend its terminations of the employees. Amazon (AMZN) spokesperson Jaci Anderson told The Times that it “terminated these employees not for talking publicly about working conditions, safety or sustainability but, rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies.”
“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 said.
Amazon and Costa did not immediately respond to CNN Business’ requests for comment.
The news comes at a time when the company has been openly antagonistic towards critics of its workplace conditions, specifically the work conditions of its warehouse employees. A union election at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, has once again cast a harsh light on the realities of working for Amazon and has garnered national attention from prominent figures, including President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams. The vote – a tally of which began last Tuesday – will determine if the workers will form Amazon’s first US-based union in its nearly 27-year history.
Cunningham and Costa, both user experience designers, are founding members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group of corporate employees that originally formed to advocate on climate issues. The group continues to speak out on issues facing its employer, including lending its support to the workers seeking to unionize.
Cunningham and Costa’s claim is the latest Amazon worker retaliation that the federal agency has found merit in. In November, the NLRB issued a complaint against Amazon for the illegal termination of a Pennsylvania warehouse worker. According to an analysis of NLRB data by NBC News, there have been at least 37 retaliation charges filed to the agency against Amazon across 20 cities since February 2020. While the pandemic has been a boon for Amazon’s business, safety precautions related to the virus, as well as general workplace conditions, have also been a factor behind a more general employee uprising at its facilities. NBC News reported that NLRB is considering whether it may consolidate the allegations given the number of similar complaints.
At the time, Cunningham and Costa’s firing led to the resignation of Amazon engineer and vice president Tim Bray. In a lengthy blog post about his departure, Bray said he “quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.”
“Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture,” Bray wrote. “I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.”