Amazon settles with employees who said they were fired over activism

Amazon reached an agreement with two former employees that the National Labor Relations Board claimed had been fired illegally for speaking out about Amazon's labor policies and climate record.
The terms of the settlement between Amazon, Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham were not immediately disclosed. John Giannopoulos, NLRB Administrative Law Judge, announced the settlement at a virtual hearing. Giannopoulos was scheduled to review the NLRB complaint.

Amazon declined to comment. James McGuinness, the attorney representing the Seattle chapter United Food and Commercial Workers Union filed the NLRB complaint for Cunningham and Costa. He couldn't be reached immediately for comment.

The NLRB had earlier this year found that Amazon illegally retaliated towards Cunningham, Costa and others when it fired them in April 2020. Amazon had previously stated that it disagreed with the NLRB findings and claimed that it fired Costa, Cunningham and others for repeatedly violating its internal policies.

Costa and Cunningham complained to the NLRB in October that Amazon fired them because it discriminated against its non-solicitation and communications policies. The latter prohibits employees speaking negatively about Amazon without permission from their managers.

Amazon has reached a settlement and avoids what could have been an extremely long trial with witnesses and a dissection about its treatment of employees. Amazon could have had to rehire Cunningham or Costa, or pay them back their wages, if the NLRB had sided with the workers.

Cunningham, Costa and their 15-year tenure at Amazon's Seattle headquarters were user experience designers. They became vocal critics about Amazon's climate stance in 2018 and started an employee advocacy group to push the company to lower its climate impact. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice gained support from more than 8,700 employees. It also propelled over 1,500 employees to protest Amazon's climate policies.

Cunningham and Costa expressed concern about Amazon's treatment for warehouse workers during the pandemic. They shared a petition signed by warehouse workers calling for stronger coronavirus protections. Their employee advocacy group organized an internal meeting to allow workers at Amazon and those working in warehouses to discuss their workplace conditions.

Amazon's labor practices have come under increasing scrutiny from both employees and other groups. During the pandemic, delivery and warehouse workers raised concerns about the safety of front-line workers. Increasing numbers of workers have also filed complaints to the NLRB alleging unfair labor practices.

Cunningham's and Costa's firings in April provoked immediate backlash. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Vice President Kamala Hariri, then a California senator joined other legislators in writing to Amazon to request more information about their firing.

In protest of the firings, Tim Bray, an engineer and former vice president at Amazon, quit in May. Bray stated that he was "snapped" upon learning about the firings and added that remaining at Amazon would have been like "signing off for actions I detest."

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