‘Locked out by a robot’: Amazon Fresh accused of retaliation to union drive – The Guardian

‘Locked out by a robot’: Amazon Fresh accused of retaliation to union drive – The Guardian

Several unfair labor practice charges filed with the NLRB as a Seattle Amazon Fresh grocery store resists efforts to unionize
Las week, 26-year-old Kaylyn Richards received an automated email informing her that she was terminated from her job at an Amazon Fresh grocery retail store in Seattle.
Earlier that week, Richards had spoken with one of her managers about clerical problems she was having with the attendance time clock, as she was erroneously docked attendance points, though she noted she had never missed shifts or used paid time off if doing so. A manager reassured her the clerical errors made clocking in and out through the app would be resolved.
Later in the week, Richards continued working as usual without any problems, and even noted she discovered glass in a tray of fish after a portion of the glass window in the deli had broken. Then, the day after her last shift, on a Wednesday night, Richards realized she had been locked out of the A to Z Amazon system.
“I have not missed any of my shifts here, or I use my PTO to cover it. And to have an app, lock me out of it, and to not even receive any communication from Amazon Fresh is kind of mind-boggling,” Richards said. “To talk to a manager about accruing those points, and have him reassure me that it was already taken care of, then to proceed with my shift and then to be locked out by a robot is kind of crazy.”
Richards has argued her firing is in retaliation for her supporting union efforts at her Amazon Fresh store. Her firing has also jeopardized her housing security, as she has been living in a youth home program and needs paystubs to prove steady employment in order to be placed into an apartment.
Workers at Richards’ Amazon Fresh grocery store in Seattle with 150 employees, are currently seeking union recognition from Amazon while organizing support among co-workers to form Amazon Workers United.
The organizing drive has faced significant opposition from Amazon, which refuses to recognize the union. Several unfair labor practice charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board alleging retaliation to union organizing, including claims Richards was fired in retaliation for supporting the union.
“Having a body to protect people from abusive management would be very helpful,” said Nova Rune, a trans woman who has worked at Amazon Fresh since October and noted she has been misgendered multiple times at work and management isn’t properly educated on discriminatory issues.
Amazon opened the first Amazon Fresh grocery store in 2020 and is currently expanding retail store locations around the country, in addition to operating about 500 Whole Foods stores in the US. There are currently no formally recognized unions representing workers at any of Amazon’s grocery locations, though three Amazon warehouses, one in Alabama and two in New York City, are in the process of holding union elections.
Joseph Fink has worked at the Amazon Fresh store in Seattle since before it opened in July. He’s previously worked at Whole Foods and several other grocery stores.
He explained forming a union had been a topic of discussion among workers since the store opened, but the efforts became more organized when Amazon was forced to post notices to employees company-wide affirming their union organizing rights as part of a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board at the end of December.
“Sometimes there is a disconnect between ideas in a boardroom and on the ground in the trenches,” said Fink. “We don’t have an onsite human resources team. I’ve sent emails, I’ve submitted multiple HR cases and there’s no response.”
As an example of bad policies, Fink cited a ban on employees working with water bottles, while they face being reprimanded if they leave in the midst of a task to go to the water fountain in the store.
He argued there were many policies where workers are yelled at for minor infractions and the most vulnerable workers were the most susceptible to being disciplined and terminated for policies such as the point-based attendance system or subject to sexual harassment in the workplace without any action from management or corporate.
Fink described one manager verbally and sexually harassing multiple employees without reprimand, including making sexually explicit remarks toward Fink in the workplace. Fink also claimed he was verbally reprimanded for posting union flyers in the break room, which were removed.
Amazon Workers United first went public several weeks ago and have notified the company of their demands. They include raising the store’s minimum wage to $25 an hour, an employee discount in line with what is offered to Whole Foods employees, an improved dress code, a fairer attendance policy, chairs for cashiers, sexual harassment training, and access to food the store throws away or composts.
“There’s a culture of fear about basic interactions with employees. You can be reprimanded and that type of culture of fear has made it hard to have any conversation about a union at all,” added Fink. “I’m not afraid. Jeff [Bezos] doesn’t scare me.”
A spokesperson for Amazon denied claims of retaliation in regards to Kaylyn Richards’s termination. “These claims of retaliation are false, and our attendance policy is applied consistently to all employees in our stores. We encourage employees who have questions about the policy to speak with their managers or HR partners,” the spokesperson said in an email.
In regards to the union drive, the spokesperson added: “Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they haven’t chosen to do that at this store. The opinions of a few individuals do not reflect the majority of our employees. Our focus remains on working directly with our team to make Amazon a great place to work.
“The allegations in the charges filed with the NLRB are false and we look forward to showing that through this process.”

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