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NLRB judge rules Amazon CEO violated labor law

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge has found that Amazon CEO Andy Jassy’s public comments about unionization efforts at the company violated federal labor law.

The decision, issued by Judge Brian Gee earlier this month, could have broader implications for employers and their leadership when discussing union activity.

The case stems from a complaint filed by the NLRB in 2022, alleging that Jassy’s statements in various media interviews, including CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Bloomberg’s Technology Summit, and The New York Times’ DealBook Summit, were threatening and coercive to employees.

In his ruling, Gee determined that while some of Jassy’s comments, such as those about the potential loss of direct employee-employer relationships due to unionization, were lawful opinions, others crossed the line.

Specifically, Gee found that Jassy’s assertions that unionization would make employees less empowered and make it harder to get things done quickly were “unsupported by objective fact” and amounted to “unprotected threats.”

Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employers are allowed to express opinions about unionization but are prohibited from making threats or promises to influence employees’ decisions. The NLRB has taken an increasingly aggressive stance in protecting union activity in recent years.

Amazon strongly disagrees with the decision and plans to appeal.

In a statement, company spokesperson Mary Kate Paradis said, “The decision reflects poorly on the state of free speech rights today, and we remain optimistic that we will be able to continue to engage in a reasonable discussion on these issues where all perspectives have an opportunity to be heard.”

However, some are applauding the ruling as a lesson to employers.

“It sends a clear message that attempts to dissuade workers from exercising their right to organize and bargain collectively will not be tolerated,” said Seth Goldstein, the Amazon Labor Union’s attorney, in a statement to Bloomberg News.

If upheld, the ruling could require Amazon to post notices at its U.S. facilities informing employees of their rights and committing not to threaten them for engaging in union activity. The decision may also serve as a warning to other executives to be cautious when publicly discussing unionization efforts at their companies.

The outcome could redraw the already fine line between employer free speech rights and employee protections under federal labor law.