“I believe it was retaliatory. Amazon knows that I’m making national headlines."
Amazon has fired two outspoken Staten Island warehouse workers who helped organize a union at JFK8, Amazon’s largest warehouse in New York City, the workers told Motherboard.
The victory at JFK8 in April marked the first time in U.S. labor history that workers have successfully unionized at the fiercely anti-union company. The tech behemoth has so far refused to recognize the union and has asked the National Labor Relations Board to throw out the results of the election.
While it’s unclear whether recent terminations are retaliatory, they mark the first instance since Amazon Labor Union won a union election on April 1 that Amazon has terminated organizers in Staten Island.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
On May 3, Amazon human resources notified Mat Cusick, the comms lead for Amazon Labor Union and an Amazon warehouse worker, that he had been terminated for “voluntary resignation due to job abandonment,” according to an email obtained by Motherboard. Cusick had been on COVID-related leave.
Amazon notified another warehouse employee, Tristan Dutchin, an outspoken ALU organizer, whose photo has been prominently featured across major media outlets in recent weeks, in a meeting on May 7 that he had been terminated for falling behind on productivity targets, Dutchin told Motherboard.
Dutchin sent screenshots to Motherboard confirming that he had been locked out of Amazon’s AtoZ app, which handles payroll and scheduling.
“I felt distraught and stressed-out yesterday when I learned I had lost my job. I have heard other stories from other workers who got fired due to the same thing,” Dutchin, a 27-year-old Brooklyn resident, told Motherboard. “I believe it was retaliatory. Amazon knows that I’m making national headlines. They could see all my interviews with the press.”
In recent years, Amazon has gained a reputation for firing workers involved in labor organizing at the company. Chris Smalls, the president of Amazon Labor Union, was fired from JFK8 in March 2020 after leading a COVID safety-related walkout at the facility. In April, a judge found that Amazon “unlawfully” fired Gerald Bryson, another JFK8 worker and ALU organizer involved in the March 2020 Covid walkout, and ordered his reinstatement with full back pay.
On May 5, Amazon fired six senior managers who oversaw Amazon’s anti-union campaign at JFK8. Managers said they believed their firings were a response to the union’s victory; Amazon stated they were the result of an internal “operations and leadership ”review. Amazon also recently fired a union organizer at a unionizing warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
Cusick, ALU’s comms lead and one of the recently fired workers, was out on Covid leave to care for a loved one when he lost his job for “voluntary resignation due to job abandonment.” Cusick says he received conflicting information from different parts of the company about how long his leave extended, an issue that has been rampant for Amazon warehouse workers during the pandemic in Staten Island, according to a New York Times investigation.
In early April, Cusick said a representative from Amazon’s employee resource center first granted him two consecutive leaves of absence extending until April 29 on a phone call. On April 25, he received an email from Amazon retroactively stating that his leave had been approved until April 19 with the option to extend. A text message from that same day confirmed, “Your case….has been approved!” On May 3, he received a termination letter.
Since then, Cusick hasn’t been able to get a straight answer from human resources about whether his leaves of absence had been approved, and whether he was terminated for “job abandonment” or using more unpaid time off than he had. “I was transferred on the phone so many times,” he said. “The calls went from China to India to different call centers in the US. Nobody has access to all my info. Each person has a different read on the situation about whether my leaves of absence were approved.”
Cusick played a critical role in phone banking and texting and making materials for Amazon Labor Union. He designed the ALU’s website and wrote its newsletter. During the most recent defeated campaign at a second Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, Cusick led round-the-clock organizing efforts outside of the front of the building.
“The whole general context of intimidation and retaliation is relevant to this,” said Cusick. “This could just be their broken HR system, but my fear is this is a prelude or pretext for more retaliatory firings targeting organizers and them saying ‘This is just our policy.’”
In recent weeks, Amazon has been disciplining and writing up its Staten Island employees for union-related activity.