Amazon fires two employees linked to the Staten Island union effort

Workers line up to vote in a union election at Amazon’s JFK8 distribution center in the Staten Island borough of New York City on March 25, 2022 in the United States.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Amazon fired two employees linked to an organizational campaign that led to the company’s first union warehouse in the United States

Mat Cusick and Tristan Dutchin told CNBC they were fired by Amazon in the past few days. Both Cusick and Dutchin have partnered with the Amazon Labor Union, an emerging group led by current and former employees of the company, to organize workers in the e-commerce giant’s warehouses on Staten Island in New York.

THE ALU achieved a historic victory last month, when workers at Amazon’s largest department store in New York City, known as JFK8, voted to join the union. The ALU hoped to replicate its success in a smaller facility nearby, called LDJ5, but the site rejected the union last week. However, the JFK8 win spurred organizational efforts at other Amazon warehouses, and the ALU received high-profile accolades, in particular by President Joe Biden.

Dutchin, who worked as a parcel collector at JFK8 for nearly a year, said he was fired on Saturday after finishing his shift. Amazon told him it failed to meet the company’s productivity goals, which require employees to pick up hundreds of packages per hour.

Dutchin said he had received previous warnings from Amazon about his performance, but has since received additional training. Dutchin said his manager even congratulated him recently on his improved performance.

Cusick, who holds the role of communications director of the ALU, said he was fired last week after going on “Covid care leave,” which allows employees to care for Covid-19 sick family members.

A woman holds a placard as Amazon and union workers attend the rally outside the company building on April 24, 2022, in the Staten Island neighborhood of New York City.

Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images

An employee of Amazon’s human resources department allowed him to go on leave until April 29, Cusick said. But on April 30, he received an email from Amazon saying he had been absent from work for three days, reason for being fired, Cusick said.

The next day, Cusick, who sorted the packages for delivery at an Amazon facility called DYY6 near JFK8, discovered he was locked out of Amazon’s internal employee portal.

“I called ERC,” Cusick said, referring to the employee resource center, “and said, ‘What’s going on, it looks like he’s been fired.’”

“I think the first person may have said I wasn’t fired,” he said. “I went from China, to India, to a few different teams in the US, and they all had a different view of what was going on.”

On May 3, Cusick received a letter from Amazon informing him that he was fired “due to quitting his job,” according to a copy of the letter displayed by CNBC.

Amazon’s employee human resources systems have been under scrutiny in the past. Investigations of the New York Times Other Bloomberg identified problems with the heavily automated system, which struggled to keep pace with the company’s rapidly expanding workforce, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cusick described his dismissal as “an automatic dismissal”.

“Amazon’s systems are almost entirely digital,” Cusick said. “I’ve been locked out of the system where all that stuff is stored. I’m locked out of the building, so I can’t even go to the building where I work to talk to the people inside.”

Vice previously reported on layoffs. It is unclear whether the layoffs were in retaliation for workers’ organizational efforts, and Amazon representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“They pay attention to that stuff”

Amazon previously fired employees who were openly critical of the company’s working practices, including Chris Smalls, the president of the ALU. Amazon was recently ordered to return the job to JFK8 employee Gerald Bryson after a judge found the company fired him two years ago for participating in a pandemic protest.

“I’ve been doing interviews, going to rallies,” Dutchin said. “By being part of the ALU and making headlines nationwide, they pay attention to that stuff.”

The union victory at JFK8 was a major victory for union groups, which have been trying to organize Amazon’s structures for several years. For the ALU, the challenges are not over now it must try to negotiate a collective agreement with Amazon, which he has already tried to delay a contract challenging the outcome of the elections in court.

In addition to firing an organizer at JFK8, the company has also made changes to the site’s upper ranks in the past few days.

Amazon’s layoff last week helped at least a dozen senior managers at JFK8, The New York Times reports it. Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the layoffs are the result of several weeks of “operations and leadership” assessments at JFK8. But the fired executives saw the move as a response to the union’s recent victory, according to the Times.

While Amazon may be legally allowed to fire managers who are not part of the bargaining unit, the company could face further struggle from the National Labor Relations Board for firing union organizers, said Tom Kochan, a professor at MIT. Sloan School of Management.

“It is clearly immoral and a violation of the law to fire trade union organizers, but it could pay off for the company to do so because the penalties are so low,” Kochan said. “It is also very difficult to enforce the law to prove that the worker was fired for union activity, rather than failing to show up on time or somehow do the job effectively.”

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