A judge ruled Monday that Amazon must recover and pay lost wages to a worker whom the company “illegally” fired two years ago after a protest at its Staten Island execution center, the same warehouse that recently voted in a landmark union election.
The regional director of the National Labor Relations Council says the dismissal is revenge for protesting against safety conditions, which is protected by federal labor law. Benjamin W. Green, an administrative law judge, agreed.
The case focuses on a verbal quarrel in the early days of the New York pandemic. On April 6, 2020, Gerald Bryson protested in front of a warehouse known as JFK8, saying it should be closed for safety. Another employee said she wanted the facility to remain open because she was grateful for the extra pay she received for working during the pandemic. The two exchanged insults, but only Mr. Bryson was fired. The woman received a written warning.
“Winning and coming back through those doors changes everything,” Mr Bryson said in an interview Monday. “This will show that Amazon can be defeated. This will show that you have to fight for what you believe in. “
Amazon said Mr Bryson had been fired for violating his policy against vulgar and harassing language. He defended his actions, citing an internal investigation he conducted, and said the punishment was in line with the way other workers were treated.
“We strongly disagree with this decision and are surprised that the NLRB would like every employer to approve of Mr Bryson’s behavior,” said Kelly Nantel, a spokesman for the company. “Mr. Bryson was fired for harassing, swearing and slandering a colleague over a megaphone in front of the workplace.
She added: “We do not tolerate this type of behavior in our workplace and intend to file a complaint with the NLRB.”
Mr. Green, the judge, cut off Amazon’s main grounds for dismissal. He said Amazon’s investigation had been “distorted” and was intended to find reasons to fire Mr Bryson over his protest. Noting that Amazon did not interview the protester who recorded the dispute, the judge wrote that Amazon “prefers not to receive information from someone who protests with Bryson, although this person is probably in the best position to explain what happened. happened. “
He also questioned the statements of managers and other employees that Amazon interviewed. Amazon, for example, documents that the woman, who is white, and a manager said Mr. Bryson called her a racial insult during the quarrel. But a video of the meeting showed that this never happened. The woman told Mr Bryson, a black man, to return to the Bronx, which the judge said Mr Bryson could reasonably interpret as “racial”.
“I find it implausible for six people to see the argument and accidentally provide these one-sided, exaggerated bills, unless such bills are requested of them,” he wrote.
Mr Bryson, who celebrated the decision with his 9-year-old son, said he was glad the judge found that some of Amazon’s public statements about him were invalid. “I really feel like they’ve damaged my name for two years for nothing,” he said.
Amazon justified the dismissal by saying that other employees at the facility had been fired for such behavior, but the judge disagreed. He said Amazon’s records showed less punishment “for behavior more threatening than Bryson’s or involving physical contact.” None of the examples involved incidents outside the restaurant at unpaid time, he added.
Mr Green also noted that Amazon had not provided all the documents requested in the subpoena. He said Amazon should publish notices in the warehouse confirming the right of workers to form a union and publicly recognizing the remedies it must take.
“This is a very harsh rebuke for the illegal, retaliatory termination of Gerald by Amazon,” said Frank Curl, a lawyer with Make the Road New York, a progressive advocacy group that represented Mr Bryson.
Amazon was suing the labor agency and federal court. To question a witness at last year’s hearing, Amazon hired Zainab Ahmad, a lawyer at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and a former federal prosecutor who has prosecuted terrorists.
In a related case, the labor board filed a lawsuit against Amazon in federal court last month, asking a judge to order the company to reinstate Mr Bryson, otherwise “serious disregard” for protection would “continue unchecked”. This case is still pending.
Amazon claims the labor agency was biased when it asked a federal judge to intervene just before the JFK8 union election. The company cites Mr Bryson’s case as a key reason for rejecting the union’s victory.
Amazon’s labor union, which won the JFK8 vote, faces a second vote at a nearby warehouse in late April.
Mr Bryson, who is active in the union, said the decision intensifies the case he is addressing to workers. “I’m there to say, ‘Listen, I just fought them for two years and I won,'” he said.
Monday’s appeal of Amazon’s decision will be appealed to the agency’s five-member board. If he loses there, he can challenge the result in federal court.