Retail union asserts Amazon broke federal law in firing activist from Staten Island facility

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is supporting a former Amazon employee who claims he was fired in retaliation for his organizing efforts. 
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is supporting a former Amazon employee who claims he was fired in retaliation for his organizing efforts.  Photo Credit: Getty Images/Rick Diamond

A retail union is working with a terminated employee of the Staten Island Amazon fulfillment center who filed a grievance contending the tech giant broke federal law by retaliating against him for trying to organize his co-workers. 

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union filed the grievance Wednesday with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of Justin Rashad Long, who was fired in February. Long claimed he was dismissed because he was trying to work with co-workers to address concerns about break times, hourly quotas and safety issues at the fulfillment center, according to a news release.

"I plan to continue to support Amazon’s workers in New York City as they fight to improve their workplaces, their jobs, and their lives. It’s a fight they can and should win," Long said in a statement.

Federal labor law forbids employers from terminating workers solely because they were engaged in union organizing.

The filing claims that Long saw a product fell off a robot drone, and he walked over to put the product back on the robot. Amazon facility regulations prohibit employees from working in the same area as the drones, according to the filing.

Long claims his violation did not warrant a termination, especially since another employee who also interacted with a robot at the facility was only suspended for two weeks, the filing said.

Rachael Lighty, a representative from Amazon, denied Long’s claims and said Amazon informed him that he could appeal the disciplinary decision. But Long did not do so and also declined to review a video of his actions, according to Lighty. 

"His employment was terminated for violating a serious safety policy. All employees, including Mr. Long, are trained from day one on the importance of safety and their role in maintaining a safe workplace," Lighty said in a statement.

The retail union’s president, Stuart Appelbaum, said Amazon should have taken Long’s concerns seriously, and he encouraged  Long’s colleagues in Staten Island to speak out about workplace issues. 

"Now is the moment for all of New York to rally around Rashad and Amazon’s workers. Amazon must show that it will treat all of its workers with respect and address their concerns," Appelbaum said in a statement. 

A representative from the NLRB said the filing will be reviewed and may lead to a hearing by an administrative judge. NLRB has the authority to get employees reinstated and require that they receive backpay.

In February, Amazon abandoned plans to build a $2.5 billion campus for about 25,000 workers in Long Island City, which Long had rallied against.

Back when the e-retailer  was advancing plans in Queens, its vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, when asked by the City Council speaker, said Amazon would not commit to neutrality if its workers unionized.