Amazon, NLRB reach settlement making it easier for employees to engage in labor organizing efforts

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Amazon and the National Labor Relations Board have reached a settlement that will make it easier for its employees to engage in labor organizing efforts. 

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Under the settlement, which was finalized on Wednesday, Amazon will be required to inform past and present employees who have worked at the company as far back as March of their labor rights under the National Labor Relations Act through email, its A to Z app, and posted notices in its fulfillment centers, sortation centers, receive centers, specialty, and delivery stations nationwide. 

In addition, Amazon will no longer implement policies that restrict employee access to non-work areas, such as break rooms, during non-work time and require them to leave its properties 15 minutes after the end of their shifts. The settlement stems from six cases from Amazon workers in Chicago and Staten Island who allege the policies hampered their labor organizing efforts. 

"Whether a company has 10 employees or a million employees, it must abide by the National Labor Relations Act. This settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action," NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in a statement. "Working people should know that the National Labor Relations Board will vigorously seek to ensure Amazon’s compliance with the settlement and continue to defend the labor rights of all workers."

The e-commerce giant has racked up over 75 cases alleging unfair labor practices since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. 

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Earlier this year, an Amazon facility in Bessemar, Alabama, held the first union election vote in the company's history, though the facility's approximately 5,800 workers voted overwhelmingly against the move.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the effort in Alabama, accused Amazon of interfering with the employees’ freedom of choice and "creating an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals," which the company has denied. In August, an NLRB official recommended that the RWDSU nullify the vote results, opening up the potential for a second vote.  

FILE – In this March 30, 2021 file photo, a banner encouraging workers to vote in labor balloting is shown at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves, File)  (AP Photo/Jay Reeves, File / AP Newsroom)

Following the effort in Alabama, Amazon workers in Staten Island filed a petition for a union vote in October, which was withdrawn a month later. The Staten Island employees have since re-filed the petition, according to a tweet from Amazon Labor Union organizer Christian Smalls.

On Wednesday, the Staten Island workers, as well as workers at two Chicago-area Amazon facilities, walked out to protest unfair labor practices and demand wage increases and safer working conditions.

Though Amazon declined to comment on the settlement, the company previously told FOX Business that employees have always had the choice of joining a union. However, the company does not believe that unions are the best pathway to making workplace improvements quickly, emphasizing that the benefits of direct relationships between managers and employees "allow every employee’s voice to be heard, not just the voices of a select few."

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Amazon currently offers its employees at least $15 per hour, with roles in fulfillment and transportation eligible to earn anywhere from $18 to $22.50 per hour. The company also touts health, vision, and dental insurance benefits, a 401(k) with 50% company match, up to 20 weeks paid parental leave, and its Career Choice program, which offers full college tuition reimbursement for frontline employees.

The company, which has been on a hiring spree during the coronavirus pandemic, reported a total of 1.468 million full-time and part-time employees as of the third quarter of 2021. As the retail industry faces staffing shortages amid a tight labor market, Amazon has said it anticipates $4 billion in labor costs and related expenses during the fourth quarter. 

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In addition to Amazon, companies including John Deere, Starbucks and Kellogg's have also seen a rise in labor organizing activity. 

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