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Amazon Must Reinstate Fired Worker Who Led Protest Over Working Conditions, Judge Rules

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images
  • An administrative law judge has ordered Amazon to reinstate a fired worker who was an outspoken critic of the company's workplace safety policies.
  • Gerald Bryson helped lead a protest calling for Amazon to enact stronger Covid safety measures at one of the company's warehouses on Staten Island.
  • Bryson worked at a Staten Island warehouse known as JFK8, which voted in Amazon's first U.S. union earlier this month.

Amazon has been ordered to reinstate a worker who was fired after leading a protest over working conditions at a Staten Island warehouse in the early days of the Covid pandemic.

Gerald Bryson, who worked at an Amazon warehouse on New York's Staten Island known as JFK8, helped lead the protest in April 2020. Bryson got into a dispute with another worker while protesting outside the facility.

In a video live-streamed on Facebook, Bryson and the employee exchanged profanities and were in disagreement about whether the warehouse should be shut down for disinfection. Bryson was later fired for violating Amazon's vulgar-language policy, while the other employee received a written warning.

Bryson in 2020 filed an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board, arguing Amazon retaliated against him, and later that year, the NLRB determined the complaint had merit. Last month, the NLRB took up Bryson's case and agreed that he was fired in retaliation for protesting safety conditions.

On Monday, administrative law judge Benjamin Green agreed and said Amazon must offer Bryson his job back, as well as any lost wages and benefits "resulting from his discriminatory discharge."

Green argued Amazon rushed to judgment and conducted a "skewed investigation" of the altercation that was designed to find reasons to fire Bryson for his participation in the protest. He added that Amazon interviewed selective sources during investigation, some of whom provided false information, including allegations that Bryson called the employee a racial slur during the argument.

Amazon then fired Bryson and not the other employee, even while the company "failed to explain why her conduct was meaningfully different than the conduct of Bryson," Green said.

Amazon said it disagrees with the judge's ruling and plans to appeal the decision.

"We strongly disagree with this ruling and are surprised the NLRB would want any employer to condone Mr. Bryson's behavior," Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told CNBC in a statement. "Mr. Bryson was fired for bullying, cursing at, and defaming a female co-worker over a bullhorn in front of the workplace. We do not tolerate that type of conduct in our workplace and intend to file an appeal with the NLRB."

Bryson said in an interview that he feels "exonerated" after learning he'd be able to return to working at Amazon.

"I feel a big relief," Bryson said. "I am a symbol that you can beat Amazon if you stand up to them and know your rights. I'm a symbol of why we need the ALU [Amazon Labor Union]. This would've never happened to me if we had a union in there."

Since Amazon fired him, Bryson has been involved in organizing JFK8 workers with the Amazon Labor Union, an upstart union made up of current and former company employees.

Earlier this month, workers at JFK8 voted to join ALU, establishing the first union at a U.S. Amazon warehouse. Amazon has sought to challenge the results of the election and has cited the NLRB's effort to reinstate Bryson as one argument for why the election process was tainted.

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