Amazon terminated two Staten Island warehouse workers who helped organize the first-ever union at a facility run by the e-commerce giant.
Last week, the tech titan notified Mat Cusick, who also served as the communications lead for Amazon Labor Union (ALU), that he had been let go for “voluntary resignation due to job abandonment.” Cusick said he had been on Covid-related leave.
Four days later, Amazon told Tristan Dutchin, another ALU organizer, that the company severed his employment because he allegedly fell behind on productivity targets, he said.
Vice first reported on the firings, before both Cusick and Dutchin confirmed the terminations to various publications. Cusick said an employee from Amazon’s human resources department first allowed him to go on leave until April 29. But the next day he received an email from Amazon saying he had been absent from his job for three days, which was grounds for firing. The next day, Cusick discovered he’d been locked out of Amazon’s internal employee portal.
In the lead up to the unionization vote, Cusick supported ALU’s phone bank and text campaign and helped create promotional materials for the union. He also designed the union’s website and wrote its newsletter.
Dutchin said he had received no written warnings leading up to his dismissal, which was typically how the company handled performance-based layoffs.
While Dutchin worked at the facility known as JFK8 that won unionization for its employees, Cusick worked at a nearby delivery station called DYY6.
Dutchin told Vice he believed his termination was “retaliatory” because he was prominently featured in news coverage in the wake of the organizing victory. A subsequent vote at another Staten Island warehouse across the street, a sorting facility called LDJ5, failed to gain enough support to unionize after 62 percent of participating employees voted against organizing.
In an attempt to “clear up some misinformation” on the Cusick and Dutchin terminations, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the firings were unrelated to each other and unrelated to either individual’s support any particular cause or group.
“In Mr. Cusick’s case, he has failed to show up for work since an approved leave ended in late April, despite our team reaching out to him and even extending his leave,” Nantel said in a statement to Sourcing Journal. “And in Mr. Dutchin’s case, he had been given five warnings since last summer for performance issues and was consistently performing in the bottom 3 percent compared to his peers, despite being offered additional training. We work hard to accommodate our team’s needs, but like any employer, we ask our employees to meet certain minimum expectations and take appropriate action when they’re unable to do that.”
ALU has not yet responded to Sourcing Journal’s request for comment.
Amazon has been under the spotlight in the past for terminating employees who openly criticized the company’s labor practices. The most high-profile firing was that of now-ALU head Christian Smalls, a former warehouse worker at JFK8 who staged a walkout in protest of the company’s workplace safety practices at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amazon has always contended that Smalls—who had contracted the virus—was fired for breaking quarantine rules and violating social distancing protocols when he returned for the protest.
After his firing, Smalls became the face of the JFK8 unionization movement when he founded the ALU.
A judge recently ordered Amazon to reinstate employee Gerald Bryson after finding that the Big Tech company unlawfully fired him two years ago for participating in the JFK8 protest. Amazon alleged that Bryson violated the company’s vulgar-language policy by entering a dispute with coworker Dimitra Evans at the demonstration, but the judge said the e-commerce giant failed to explain why Evans’ conduct was “meaningfully different” than Bryson’s.
The recent Amazon firings haven’t ended at employees directly involved in labor reform such as Cusick and Dutchin. The New York Times reported on Thursday that Amazon also fired at least half a dozen senior managers at JFK8, with Nantel saying that the firings were a result of several weeks of evaluations of “operations and leadership” at the facility. The managers were not named in the NYT report, but the fired managers saw the move as a response to the recent union victory, according to the publication’s sources.
The unionization push itself is still under appeal from Amazon, which has yet to recognize the union and has asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to throw out the results of the election. Amazon said that the union’s unconventional tactics were coercive and that the NLRB was biased in the union’s favor.
This further delays official unionization—a process that already is experiencing significant hurdles. Currently, the ALU is not even legally certified by the NLRB. Without a legally certified union, Amazon does not have to commence negotiations.
When the second Staten Island unionization attempt was shot down, NLRB fired back at Amazon. The agency determined that the company held illegal mandatory meetings ahead of and during both votes, and made illegal threats in those sessions. Amazon has maintained that the allegations are false, saying that it holds the meetings to ensure employees understand the facts about unions and elections.
The company also held these meetings throughout the union campaigns in Bessemer, Ala. where warehouse workers lost not one, but two elections to organize with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
The NLRB’s Brooklyn regional director will issue a complaint if Amazon doesn’t settle, according to agency press secretary Kayla Blado. NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in April that she would seek to ban such meetings, declaring in a memo to the labor board’s regional chiefs that they constituted an unlawful threat to employees.
On Thursday, Smalls testified before a Senate committee that was exploring whether companies that violate labor laws should be denied federal contracts. Smalls later attended a White House meeting with other labor organizers in which he directly asked President Joe Biden to press Amazon to recognize his union.
A White House spokesperson said it was the NLRB’s choice to certify the election results, but acknowledged that Biden has long supported collective bargaining and workers’ rights to unionize.