US labor board sues Amazon to reinstate fired Staten Island worker

Amazon is facing a lawsuit filed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is seeking the reinstatement of an employee it believes was filed in retaliation. Gerald Bryson, who worked at the e-commerce giant’s JFK8 facility on Staten Island, was fired in the early days of the pandemic after he helped lead protests over safety concerns involving the company’s COVID-19 protocols. 

Bryson fired an unfair labor practice suit back in 2020, but the case has been stuck in the agency’s administrative court process. Now, according to The New York Times, the NLRB is asking a federal judge to make immediate changes before the facility holds a union election by the end of March and considering Bryson’s involvement in organizing. 

Amazon denied that Bryson’s firing was retaliatory back in 2020, explaining that he was fired for violating its policy against vulgar and harassing language. The company said Bryson bullied and intimidated a female associate “in a racially and sexually charged way” in a confrontation during the protest. However, a video recording cited by the NLRB in a recent filing (PDF) shows that while Bryson did indeed use foul language during the confrontation, the female employee also used foul language and a racial slur against him. Bryson, a Black man who helped lead the protest, was fired, while the white female employee who told him to stop protesting and go home, got a first warning.

The NLRB has accused Amazon of applying its policies against him in retaliation for the role he played in the protest. It argued that if the judge doesn’t reinstate Bryson, workers “will inevitably conclude that the board cannot effectively protect their rights.” NLRB director Kathy Drew King said in a statement:

“No matter how large the employer, it is important for workers to know their rights — particularly during a union election — and that the N.L.R.B. will vociferously defend them.”

The JFK8 facility will hold a union vote in person between March 25th and March 30th. It’s been a long journey just to get there, with the Amazon Labor Union failing to gather enough signatures to proceed with an election the first time around. The group reached union vote threshold in its second attempt, and although Amazon was skeptical that there were a “sufficient number of legitimate signatures,” the election will take place as the NLRB had decided.

In addition to seeking Bryson’s reinstatement, the NLRB also wants Amazon to post notices of workers’ rights at the facility and to read those rights out loud at mandatory employee meetings.

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