By Bill Peters
Jennifer Bates calls treatment by Amazon 'unfathomable'; Amazon says Bates has opportunity to appeal
Amazon.com Inc. has fired a leader in the effort to unionize a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., the union representing the workers there said.
The organizer, Jennifer Bates, was terminated amid a monthslong dispute over workers' compensation after suffering injuries while working at the warehouse, according to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has been helping the warehouse's workers in their unionization drive.
The union said Bates was being terminated over an "alleged paperwork issue" and faulty AI, "due to a glitch in the company's own software." Amazon, in a statement, cited insufficient documentation to account for Bates' time away, and said she would be able to appeal the decision.
The union asked the National Labor Relations Board to review Bates' case when it was filed. The union's announcement comes after Darryl Richardson, also a vocal advocate for unionizing at Bessemer, said he was fired in January.
See also: 'Workers are not indentured servants,' Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson says in dissent over union liability for strikes
Efforts to unionize at the Alabama warehouse began in 2020. But since then, the vote on unionization has been tangled up in allegations that Amazon has acted unfairly to tilt the vote in its favor. The union has accused Amazon of violating the law in the first election, in 2021, and a rerun election held last year. The NLRB is reviewing the matter.
"I've given my arms and shoulders to Amazon these past three years," Bates said in a statement released by the union on Friday. "And I've given every fiber of my soul into organizing Amazon these past three years. For them to treat me like this is unfathomable."
Unionization efforts by Amazon warehouse workers, who are seeking better pay and protections after dealing with a surge in demand through the pandemic, have been met with stiff opposition by the online retailer. Workers at one warehouse in Staten Island, known as JFK8, voted to unionize last year. But a vote to unionize at another warehouse in Staten Island was unsuccessful.
The RWDSU said that Bates recently went on workers' compensation to recover from injuries suffered while working at the warehouse. When Amazon told her to return to work, it did not make adjustments to her schedule or the work she did, "despite repeated doctors' letters and review by Amazon's own 'Wellness Center,'" the union alleged.
Also read:Unions' push at Amazon, Apple and Starbucks could be 'most significant moment in the American labor movement' in decades
Amazon, the union said, told her to go home and get a new doctor's review, and after she returned again, she was notified that her access to Amazon's AtoZ app -- a workplace management tool -- was disabled. An HR representative, the union said, attributed the app's disabling to "her unpaid time off tally."
"Only after Bates tenacious inquiries, hours on the phone was Bates even informed she had potentially even been terminated," the union said. "Despite numerous attempts to provide the necessary paperwork she has yet to hear from the company about her appeal."
The New York Times in 2021 reported that Amazon's software had sometimes led to "inadvertent firings and stalled benefits." Amazon, in that story, said that such incidents were rare.
"Our records indicate that Ms. Bates failed to show up to work for a period of time and didn't respond or provide documentation to excuse her absences," Amazon spokesperson Mary Kate Paradis said in a statement on Friday. "We work hard to accommodate our team's needs for personal leaves of absence, but like any employer, we ask our employees to meet certain minimum expectations for leave approval. Ms. Bates has the opportunity to appeal the decision."
Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU's president, said stronger labor laws were needed to shield workers from purported retaliation and guarantee stronger protections.
"Workers suffer from life-altering injuries through their work at Amazon, including repetitive motion injuries and 911 emergencies, which send workers to the hospital regularly, some never to return again," he said. "Continually nameless faceless HR is either nowhere to be found or excessively difficult to track down."
Shares of Amazon were up 1.3% on Friday.
See also:Global tech layoffs have surpassed 201,000 since the start of 2023
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June 02, 2023 15:37 ET (19:37 GMT)
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