Labor regulators look into Amazon's firings of outspoken critics

It's investigating claims of retaliation.

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 10: Former injured Amazon employees join labor organizers and community activists to demonstrate and hold a press conference outside of an Amazon Go store in the loop to express concerns about what they claim is the company's "alarming injury rate" among warehouse workers on December 10, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. According to the community group Warehouse Workers for Justice, some Amazon warehouse facilities have injury rates more than twice the industry average, with peak rates occurring during the holiday season.   (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Amazon is facing scrutiny for firing employees and otherwise striking back at vocal critics of its workplace practices. The National Labor Relations Board is looking into claims Amazon is retaliating against employees who organize or participate in protests, including firing them or asking illegal questions. The board has declined to take action against Amazon so far, but the NLRB’s Chicago regional director said punishments might come if there was a “meritorious charge” involving other unfair behavior in the next six months.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the company maintained that staff were punished for “bad actions” that included “endanger[ing] the health, well-being or safety” of coworkers by violating social distancing rules. However, those levelling complaints have argued that Amazon is just using social distancing as a pretext and is using intimidation tactics to keep employees in line, such as jumping directly to final written warnings instead of the gradual warnings it’s supposed to use.

Activist employees believe their efforts have pushed Amazon to improve its behavior, such as instituting stricter COVID-19 safety measures. True or not, an NLRB inquiry puts Amazon under significant pressure — further claims of retaliation could lead to regulatory action.

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