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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Second Circuit lifts order that kept Amazon from firing unionizing workers

The appellate panel found that the lower court judge that issued Amazon the cease and desist didn't properly justify the decision.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel found on Wednesday that a Brooklyn judge abused her discretion when she issued a cease and desist order that prevented Amazon from firing pro-union workers.

U.S. Circuit Judges Debra Livingston and Richard Wesley, George W. Bush appointees, and Denny Chin, a Barack Obama appointee, concluded in a 25-page opinion authored by Wesley that the cease and desist by the lower court was unjustified.

“The district court never explained what in the record supported its conclusion that the cease and desist order was just and proper,” Wesley wrote. “And while we assume the district court did weigh irreparable harm and the status quo, it never explained how they justified the cease and desist order or why.”

The underlying case stems from the firing of former Amazon employee Gerald Bryson, a union activist who was fired in 2020 after he protested the supposed lack of Covid-19 protocols at his Staten Island warehouse. The warehouse, known as JFK8, would eventually become the first Amazon site to unionize.

Amazon claims that it terminated Bryson because of a caught-on-camera verbal spat he had with a coworker during that protest, however.

The National Labor Relations Board brought the lawsuit on Bryson’s behalf in 2022, requesting his reinstatement. U.S. District Judge Dianne Gujarati in 2022 denied to reinstate Bryson, but found it likely that Amazon had interfered with unionizing rights when it fired him.

“The court finds that there is reasonable cause to believe that an unfair labor practice has been committed by Amazon with respect to the termination of Bryson,” Gujarati wrote in a 30-page order.

Gujarati directed Amazon to cease and desist from “discharging employees because they engaged in protected concerted activity and from, in any like or related manner interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed to them by [the National Labor Relations Act].”

The Second Circuit panel agreed with Gujarati that Bryson shouldn’t be reinstated, but it failed to see what grounded her cease and desist order.

“The district court abused its discretion in issuing the cease and desist order without adequately explaining why that relief was just and proper,” Wesley wrote. “Sufficient explanation was particularly necessary because the district court concluded, based on the same record, that other, closely related relief was not just and proper.”

The judges dug back into the evidence shown to the lower court to find that Bryson’s firing had no detrimental effect on the building’s unionizing efforts. They cited the deposition of one employee and union member, who testified that some employees refused to take merchandise from the Amazon Labor Union “out of concern that they would be fired like Bryson for openly aligning with the union.”

But Gujarati rejected that evidence as speculative, so the panel didn’t see that as reasonable enough justification for the cease and desist order, either.

“The district court’s brevity is perhaps understandable, given that the board’s cease and desist arguments below were largely relegated to a handful of sentences in its motion papers,” Wesley wrote.

The Second Circuit’s standard for the type of injunctive relief sought by the board in this case requires finding “reasonable cause” to believe an unfair labor practice occurred. If it did, then the court must determine if the relief is “just and proper.”

Neither Amazon’s press office nor Teresa Poor, the regional director for Brooklyn’s chapter of the National Labor Relations Board, immediately responded to requests for comment on Wednesday’s opinion.

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Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Employment

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