On the Picket Line

Amazon workers win NLRB victory

Former Amazon workers fired for their labor activism have won another victory, further exposing Amazon’s anti-labor policies. The National Labor Relations Board ruled Sept. 29 that Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham were illegally fired in 2020 for publicly speaking out against the company’s conspicuously bad climate record and labor policies. Costa and Cunningham had worked as user experience designers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters for 15 years. Here is the main part of their statement in response to the ruling:

“We are thrilled to announce that we have reached an agreement to settle the charge against Amazon at the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the company illegally fired us for speaking up about warehouse workers’ conditions during COVID. This is a win for protecting workers rights and shows that we were right to stand up for each other, for justice and for our world. Amazon will be required to pay us our lost wages and post a notice to all of its tech and warehouse workers nationwide that Amazon can’t fire workers for organizing and exercising

their rights. It’s also not lost on us that we are two women who were targeted for firing. Inequality, racism and sexism are at the heart of both the climate crisis and the pandemic.”

Seattle’s United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 21 filed a complaint in October 2020 alleging Amazon’s firing of Costa and Cunningham violated workers’ protected right to organize within their workplaces. In reaching a settlement, Amazon avoids what could have become a potentially lengthy trial, complete with witnesses and a bigger exposure of its anti-labor practices.

The NLRB ruling also happened because Costa and Cunningham helped found Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which gained the support of 8,700 employees. They helped organize a 1,700-worker walkout in 2009 to protest the behemoth’s climate policies, demanding Amazon reduce its carbon footprint. And they spoke out against the company’s treatment of its warehouse workers and helped organize a mass meeting of Amazon’s tech workers and warehouse employees to discuss workplace conditions.

The victory adds to the rise in organizing at Amazon, including the Amazon Labor Union founded by Chris Smalls at a Staten Island, N.Y., Amazon warehouse, and the Amazon warehouse organizing drive in Bessemer, Ala., where the company has been exposed for blatantly interfering with the 2021 Retail Wholesale Department Store Union election.

Labor leaders livestream

On Sept. 30 labor leaders from across the U.S. participated in a livestream panel, “Signs of Struggle and the Road Ahead,” hosted by the Labor Fraction of Workers World Party. Speakers represented a wide range of worker actions happening around the country. Minnie Bruce Pratt, fraction member and Alabama native, gave an historical context for labor struggles that defied white supremacy in that state, as well as updates on the United Mine Workers coal miners’ strike, now in its seventh month, and on developments in the historic Bessemer Amazon struggle that might bring a re-vote in that RWDSU campaign.

Donna Marks, Portland, Ore., shop steward for Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 364 and a leader in the recent Nabisco strike, celebrated how the union successfully shut down production and gained a huge Sept. 18 win in health care benefits, shift scheduling and overtime wages.

Renee Imperato, a sex worker and facilitator for the TransGenerational Theater Project, provided details about the challenges of organizing this marginalized sector of the working class, with concerns related to safety and increasingly repressive legislation.

Chris Smalls, joining by phone from on-the-ground organizing at the Staten Island Amazon warehouse site, spoke about the increasing success in registering workers to petition for an NLRB election for representation by the Amazon Labor Union, which he founded after being fired amid racist attacks by Amazon.

Kate Murphy, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, gave a detailed account of the St. Vincent’s nurses’ strike in Worcester, Mass., in protest against the anti-worker actions of corporate giant Tenet. The strike, which began seven months ago, is now the longest nurses’ strike in state history.

Makasi Motema, secretary of Workers World Party’s Executive Committee and a member of Workers Assembly Against Racism-New York, explained that the way to a worker-led society is through workers’ assemblies which will unify workers across all professions with the common goal of defeating the ruling class. Larry Holmes, first secretary of Workers World Party, stressed that the U.S. government is in the clutches of the capitalist ruling class and that the only way forward is through the dismantling of the state and the building of a worker-led society. (Watch the entire program on youtube at tinyurl.com/3fputdtp)

Marie Kelly and Jim McMahan

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Marie Kelly and Jim McMahan

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