Amazon’s decision to fire warehouse worker Courtney Bowden violated labor laws, according to charges filed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last month and obtained by BuzzFeed News. Bowden was advocating for better working when the company abruptly let her go.
Bowden was one of many workers fighting for paid time off at Amazon warehouses as the coronavirus pandemic intensified. While the company said it was rolling out increased safety measures, workers continued to get sick and executives became increasingly hostile to employee organizing efforts . In March, Bowden was fired over an alleged incident with her supervisor.
Bowden’s termination came at a time of unprecedented demand for Amazon services. Throughout the spring, the company struggled to keep up with rising orders, even as coronavirus outbreaks swept across its own warehouses. Chris Smalls, a warehouse worker on Staten Island, organized a major walkout to protest the lack of personal protective equipment for employees. Amazon fired Smalls and coordinated a campaign to label him as “not smart or articulate” in the press.
In May, The Verge reported that seven warehouse workers had died from COVID-19.
Bowden argued that Amazon terminated her because she’d been speaking to co-workers about “pay and other workplace issues,” BuzzFeed News reports. The NLRB found the allegations credible enough to pursue charges, alleging that Amazon “has been interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees” as they exercised their protected rights.
If Amazon loses the case, it could have to pay Bowden back wages for the period since she was fired. But Bowden said her goal is more than just financial. She told BuzzFeed News she wants “coworkers to see that speaking up about bad working conditions and work benefits is not wrong, and to not be fearful for speaking up for what’s right, because they have a right by law.”
Bowden’s complaint is one of many legal actions currently being brought against the tech giant. In November, a judge dismissed a lawsuit from four former workers at a distribution center in New York. It argued the company had created unsafe working conditions during the pandemic.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.